Aug 03 2003

Emancipation & Liberation, Issue 5 and 6, Autumn 2003

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 05&06RCN @ 3:31 pm

Issue 5 and 6 of Emancipation & Liberation is out now.

Issue 5-6 Cover

Issue 5-6 Cover

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Aug 03 2003

Beyond Broadswords and Bayonets

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 05&06RCN @ 3:07 pm

Challenging left nationalism and left unionism in the SSP

1. Socialist Approaches to History in Scotland

i) Book publication produces political storm

One issue guaranteed to provoke a flurry of letters to the editor of Scottish Socialist Voice is any perceived challenge to the SSP‘s support for an independent socialist Scotland. The latest event to provoke a mass scurrying for pen and paper, or the e-mail at least, has been the publication of Neil Davidson’s Discovering the Scottish Revolution, 1692-1746, and the review by fellow Socialist Worker Platform member, Joe Hartney (1).

Joe’s review was characterised as Brit Left by Kevin Williamson and downright Unionist propaganda by Donald Anderson (2). Reeling from these and other left nationalist attacks, Joe answered by trying to defend the honour of the unionist British left but also argued that if Scotland broke away from the state, it would be a major blow to the British ruling class, and socialists should support independence for that reason(3).

What we are witnessing here is SWP politics in Scotland in transition. Certainly, the main thrust of Neil’s new book and his earlier Origins of Scottish Nationhood is that the Scottish working class was formed as an integral part of a wider British working class in response to the creation of the British state and British capitalism. This state was itself a product of the struggle against feudalism and absolutism, in which a British ruling class came about by the merger of both English and Scottish elements. And according to Neil, in a left version of the theory put forward by Linda Colley (4), this led to a united British nation. Not surprisingly therefore, the SWP is seen by the majority of the SSP membership as the major platform still upholding the progressive nature of the creation of the British state and the need for a British-wide revolutionary socialist party – an SWP writ large. Yet Joe highlights the SWP‘s possible escape clause to allow it to wriggle out of such unionist British left politics – if Scotland broke away… socialists should support independence.

What is less clear in any SWP analysis, is just how this situation could arise. Why would such a move necessarily be progressive if socialists in Scotland had been either agnostic or hostile to the political issue of Scottish self-determination prior to such a development? In this scenario the SNP would have made all the political running over the issue. And the SNP‘s version of Scottish self determination has a real sting in its tail. Their Scottish independence means support for cross-class unity with Scottish bosses, with Scottish workers competing against other workers in these islands and elsewhere. Their internationalism means overtures to the multinational corporations and continued support for the British Crown. Even left Nationalist, Alex Neil, likes to go to the Queen’s Garden Party at Holyrood!

Joe, however, crosses his fingers. He hopes that if socialists throughout Britain concentrate on fighting global issues such as opposition to Bush and Blairs’ permanent war regime and bread and butter issues of direct concern to workers, then Scottish independence might never be posed as a serious issue. Or perhaps the liberal wing of the British ruling class will come up with another holding option following from Devolution, such as Federalism, to keep the Nationalists at bay. But, what the hell, if all else fails, Joe suggests the SWP will become ‘independistas’ too!

Despite Joe’s attempt to ride two horses, Neil’s two very well researched books do remain trapped within unionist British left politics. Yet, unlike the somewhat outraged outbursts of the SSP‘s left nationalist wing, serious Nationalist historians, have quite rightly appreciated the important challenge represented by Neil’s work. Paul Scott, James Halliday and George Kerevan (5) have all contributed constructively to the debates prompted by Neil’s books. Socialists in the SSP should do the same.

ii) Scottish marxists and Scottish history – the long silence

Neil’s writings on the Scottish nation, Scottish nationalism and the early working class in Scotland represent the most serious work done in this area by any socialist yet (especially from the marxist tradition). However, despite Neil’s own Trotskyist background, his work still shares a common framework with those orthodox Communist historians of the old CPGB. The highest proportion of the CPGB‘s membership was to be found in Scotland. Yet amazingly it wasn’t until the 1970s that the CPGB, fifty years after its formation, seriously tried to grapple with the history of Scotland. John Foster wrote an article in the Scottish Committee’s Scottish Marxist in 1973, whilst Victor Kiernan wrote specifically on the Scottish Revolution in 1975. Party publishers, Lawrence and Wishart, produced Scottish Capitalism, edited by Tony Dickson in 1980. Similarly, it was only in the 1990s that the SWP (the largest British Trotskyist group) attempted to do the same, mainly through Neil’s writings.

Why is this? Both the CPGB and SWP have viewed the creation of the British state as a major progressive development in world history. It marked the emergence of a new capitalist order and the beginning of the end for the old European feudal system. And with British capitalism came the British working class, which would take a (hopefully leading) part in the struggle for socialism. From such a perspective, any Scottish dimension is at best a subordinate and secondary feature, or worse, a political diversion. Therefore, for ‘Scottish History’  refer to ‘British History’, subheading – ‘Regional/local aspects’ ! The SWP and the CPGB both advocate/d their own versions of the British road to socialism, hence their long period of neglect of Scottish history.

There was another contributory factor to this. Both have claimed to be Bolshevik and Leninist organisations. Hence the history of the USSR has played a special role in their own history. Like the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Union of the Socialist Soviet Republics was also a unionist state. Therefore the USSR also developed a left unionist politics which located the essential progressive developments within the dominant nation – in this case Russia. Political events elsewhere in the Union-state were judged by their contribution to Soviet unity (at least up until Stalin took over in the case of the SWP). There is a continuous unionist thread linking the old British Whig and the later orthodox Marxist views of history.

iii) The Scottish Left begins to rouse from its unionist sleep

However, a blinkered approach to Scottish politics and history couldn’t survive the impact of a growing national movement in the 1970s. Many on the Left, too young to remember the the mainstream Scottish Left’s one time support for Home Rule, resisted any moves to Devolution, as it was now called. They saw it is an unnecessary capitulation to the Tartan Tories – as they dubbed the SNP. Nevertheless, the CPGB had been in existence long enough for its leaders to be aware of the old Scottish Home Rule policy originally introduced to Scottish left politics by the Independent Labour Party.

So, in the face of a rising SNP political challenge, the CPGB once more dusted down this old Home Rule policy. The CPGB was to the forefront in the early 1970s, through its support in the STUC, in trying to get the Labour Party to adopt Devolution (6).The CPGB needed a theoretical buttress for its political support for Devolution. Foster and Dicksons’ historical writings emphasised the historic necessity for a British capitalism and state, but also attempted to deal seriously with its distinctive Scottish component.

The SWP, using left unionist arguments (in Scotland anyhow), opposed Devolution in 1979. However, as the Labour Party in Scotland once more took up Devolution from the late ’80s, this time with a greater degree of enthusiasm, the SWP followed suit. Scottish Devolution was seen to be a component part of the anti-Thatcher campaign. The SWP supported a Yes vote in the New Labour’s 1997 Devolution Plebiscite. Like Foster and Dickson in the 1970s, Neil today also emphasises the historic necessity for a British capitalism and state, and also attempts to deal seriously with its distinctive Scottish component. The SWP too needed a theoretical justification for its relatively new-found support for Devolution. Later, after a period of internal debate, SWP members in Scotland were directed to join the SSP in May 2001. Neil’s writings provide some protective armour in the face of the left nationalist adversaries they have met in the process. Although, as Joe has indicated, this left unionist armour may be allowed to rust over time!

The SWP‘s ‘Scottish Turn’ is treated with scorn by the SSP‘s left nationalist wing, particularly the SRSM. Interestingly, its principal spokesperson, Donald Anderson, initially took a very similar attitude to the old Militant’s ‘Scottish Turn’ (7). He took some persuasion to join the Scottish Socialist Alliance. Therefore, perhaps Donald will take note of one ‘straw in the wind’ which underlines my analysis of the transitional  nature of the SWP‘s politics over Scotland. The SWP, like the SRSM, gave its support in Blair’s Scottish Parliament campaign. Joe hints at future possible changes in a Scottish nationalist direction!

iv) The symbiotic relationship between British left unionism and Scottish left nationalism

What this article will attempt to show is the symbiotic nature of British left unionist and Scottish left nationalist politics by examining their attitude (or lack of one) to key events in Scottish history. The tradition I come from is that of ‘internationalism form below’. In a Scottish context this means being a Scottish internationalist and a militant republican. John Maclean, advocate of a Scottish Workers’ Republic and World Communism, is the best known representative of this political tendency in Scotland; James Connolly in Ireland. Within the wider socialist movement ‘internationalism form below’ opposes both the social chauvinism of left unionism and the social patriotism of left nationalism. Social chauvinism represents a projection of liberal unionist politics within our class and movement; whilst social patriotism represents a projection of populist nationalist politics. In practice this usually means tail-ending either the Labour Party or the SNP over issues of high politics, such as the constitution and self-determination.

Left unionist thinking upholds the progressive nature of the development of the British nation’ and of British capitalism. Now left unionism today can be very critical of the existing, clapped-out UK state machinery, but it still hopes to inherit all the ‘historic gains’ represented by the British ‘nation’s existence. In contrast, left nationalist thinking emphasises all manifestations of a separate Scottish culture and any social forces, movements, parties or individuals which can be shown to have supported an independent Scottish state.

For most left unionists (8), the Scottish nation is merely a subordinate part of a British nation which only developed in the eighteenth century. This has given rise to hybrid nationality identities such as Scottish-British or British Scots. For left nationalists, the Scottish nation encompasses all those who have advocated, built or acquiesced to a Scottish state, whatever their class and at whatever period of history. The only national identity they recognise through Scotland’s long history is Scottish (9).

As left nationalists, the SRSM are more enthusiastic when ‘lower order’ forces can be shown to be involved in the struggle to defend the Scottish state. However, defending the Scottish state is given higher prominence than support for the ‘lower order’, especially when they chose not to back this state or its advocates in their conflicts with the auld enemy. In the absence of any democratic element in the Scottish ‘nation’s make-up for major periods of the Scottish state’s existence, the SRSM tends to fall back on ethnic criteria to substitute for this – particularly support for all that is Gaelic or Celtic. They make no distinction between a Scottish state and a Scottish nation. Therefore the formation of their Scottish nation can be dated back either to the MacAlpine kingship of Alba in the ninth century, or to the ringing Declaration of Arbroath in 1320.

v) A different approach – internationalism from below

Internationalists from below, however, are concerned with the idea and reality of a nation which includes a popular democratic element, i.e. classes contesting the ruling class. It is only with the triumph of the French Revolution that the notion of a nation recognising all its members as equal citizens came to the fore. The nation then began to adopt a politically democratic form. This is what allowed revolutionary, liberal and populist nationalism to appear, with mass nationalist politics and parties. Yet, it is worth remembering that it took considerably longer before the franchise was extended to artisans, workers, peasants, women and certain ethnic minorities – and only then after much struggle.

Yet, it would indeed be too restrictive, only to allow the term nation’ to be utilised when it had taken on its full modern form, with citizens within its boundaries having constitutional political rights, particularly the right to vote. Therefore we can look to earlier periods of state (and related economic and social) development and decide whether the contesting class forces wished to maintain narrow class privileges or to widen democratic rights to involve the ‘lower orders’. Neil has used the term, proto-national consciousness, to describe these wider influences on politics before a modern nation can be said to have existed (10). Once a class-based and democratic approach to the nation becomes your focus, then socialists must take a much more critical look at the formation of a Scottish state.

2. The Medieval Scottish State – The View From Below

i) The rise of the English and Scottish states – bad news for the masses!

Many Scottish Nationalists believe in the existence of a malevolent English nationalism with long historical roots going back to the singularly aggressive Anglo-Saxons. They point to the demise of the Ancient British (Welsh) tongue, except in the recesses of the Cambrian Highlands. The suggestion is of wholesale massacre and ethnic cleansing (11). Now the ‘Dark Ages’ were undoubtedly a fairly brutal period with much rapine and killing. Yet it is most unlikely that the indigenous population was actually wiped out by the Anglo-Saxons. Many Britons (and Romano-British descendants) probably became members of an enserfed or enslaved class. Yet there is also plenty of evidence of inter-marriage between leading Anglo-Saxon and British families, and of political alliances between Anglo-Saxons and Britons directed against other Anglo-Saxons and Britons. Undoubtedly, the descendants of the Anglo-Saxon war bands emerged as the dominant force in pre-Norman England, with significant effects on culture and language, but the descendants of the earlier peoples lived on (and indeed Welsh was spoken in parts of England’s Herefordshire hill-country until the eighteenth century).

Now compare this history with that of the Scots (Gaelic) war bands who likewise crossed the sea only from Ireland. They first invaded Pictland, then old British Strathclyde and later Anglo-Saxon dominated Lothian. In a considerably shorter period of time, the Pictish and Ancient British tongues (spoken north and south of the Forth/Clyde line respectively) disappeared. Does this suggest that the Scots Gaels were even more warlike and brutal than the Anglo-Saxons? There were Scots/Anglo-Saxon alliances too, directed against the Ancient British kingdom of Strathclyde. How does this fit into a pan-Celtic view? Furthermore, when Scots and Anglo-Saxons finally clashed directly in the one-time old British-ruled Lothians, it was the Scots who became the dominant force here. The leaders of the expanding Scots state undertook extensive slave raids into northern England.

Therefore the majority of the indigenous populations, of either the Anglo-Saxon English or the Gaelic Scottish kingdoms, had little reason to be thankful for the development of either state as they were enslaved or enserfed.

ii) Who supports the Norman-French ruling class?

The next stage in the formation of the English and Scottish states was undertaken by a new group of marauding warlords – the Norman-French. The old Anglo-Saxon ruling class in England was largely smashed by them, after William the Conqueror’s victory at Hastings in 1066. As a result English didn’t become the official language of the state there until the late fourteenth century, despite it being the language of the overwhelming majority of the oppressed population. The much hated Edward I, ‘Hammer of the Scots’, was not another representative of a long-standing aggressive English nationalism but king of an extensive realm covering England, Gascony, Wales and parts of Ireland. He also had considerable noble support in Scotland. It was a Norman-French ruling class (albeit inter-married with the princesses and ladies of the defeated ruling classes) which provided the leadership for this wider Angevin/Plantagenet empire. The official language of this state was French!

In Scotland a somewhat different political arrangement emerged, involving the same brutal Norman-French warlords. The Gaelic would-be high kings of Scotland had to contend with many competitors for the title, given their complex inheritance laws. Therefore, King David I, of the dominant Canmore (12) family, decided to invite some of these Norman-French adventurers into his kingdom from 1124. They provided some ‘muscle’  for David, particularly their heavily armoured knights – the tank divisions of the Middle Ages.

Every legal artifice was utilised by the Crown in support of the feudal freebooters. The King… decreed that anyone offering resistance to {one of these} charter-holder{s} was subject to the penalty for rebellion, which was death… Possession {of land} for less than four generations was illegal possession and the holders were summarily expropriated… No non charter-holder’s oath was to be valid in any suit involving the life and limb of a charter holder… Charter-holders were given the power and privilege of fighting their duels by substitute, thereby facilitating the assassination of pertinacious freeholders and chieftains at the hands of professional champions (13).

Each sovereign lord on his estate was given the power of ‘pit and gallows’ over his ‘inferiors’. They could thus imprison any troublesome person in a deep pit, often leaving them to starve to death. Or they could hang them publicly from their gallows and leave their bodies for all to see as a warning against any insubordination. In such a manner was the power of the feudal Scottish state built up. Now, it was the turn of the old Gaelic dominated provinces of Moray and Galloway to be oppressed, provoking numerous rebellions.

The leading Scots and Norman-French families merged to form a new Scottish feudal ruling class. Because it was a merger and not a takeover, Gaelic continued to be the language of monarchist ritual, whilst French and later, English (Lallans), became court languages in their turn as well. Furthermore, the feudalisation of all the areas within the Scottish realm was much slower and less effective than in England, particularly in the western highlands and islands. Yet the names of all the leading contenders in the late thirteenth century were Norman-French – Robert de Balliol, Robert de Comines (Comyn) and Robert de Brus (Bruce). In Galloway, the conduct of Bruces’s war to claim the Scottish crown proved to be particularly vicious. This was because many people there took the opportunity of ‘their’ local lord’s difficulties to try and free themselves from his feudal control. They were brutally punished by Bruce for their efforts. De Brus and de Balliol were both Norman French-descended contenders for leadership of the the Scottish realm. Scotland was politically united only in the person of the king. His realm consisted of quite distinct provinces with different laws and customs in Alba (north of the Forth/Clyde line), Lothian, Galloway (and for a period, the Isle of Man). There was no united Scottish nation. Similarly Edward I was the Norman French-descended feudal leader of the multi-province Plantaganet empire, not the leader of a united English nation.

iii) Wallace’s Rebellion – revolts of the lower orders rock medieval feudalism

After a long intra-Norman French feudal struggle involving the Plantagenets, de Balliol and de Brus, an independent Scottish feudal regime consolidated itself. However, between 1296 and 1305 new social forces, the non-aristocratic landholders and city burghers led a revolt directed both against Edward’s feudal imperial designs and many of the duplicitous Scottish nobility. William Wallace was the leader of this rebellion. He was possibly of old British Strathclyde (some have claimed Welsh) descent. This would also explain his retreat to the Selkirkshire forests (where the old British culture probably lingered longest) to continue guerilla warfare after his defeat at Falkirk in 1298 and betrayal by Scottish lords. However, as well as minor landholders, such as the Norman French-descended Andrew de Moray, Wallace also won support in the multi-ethnic Scottish burghs. Thus Alexander Pilche (possibly of Flemish origin), a burgess in Inverness, became an important figure in the resistance. The importance of the burghs is highlighted in the one surviving document signed by Wallace in his position as Guardian. This is an appeal to the Hanseatic League ports of Bremen and Lubeck to reopen trade with the burghs of Scotland.

Wallace’s Rebellion was one of a number contemporary struggles associated with the first crisis of feudalism which broke out in parts of Europe. Wallaces’ stunning victory at Stirling Bridge in 1297 provided a similar upset to the arrogant feudal order to that of Pieter de Cominck’s weaver pikemen at Courtrai in 1302, or the Swiss foresters and their urban allies at Morgarten in 1315. However, the Scottish nobility took their revenge and not only on Wallace himself when they handed him over to Edward 1 for a cruel death. One of the first acts of Robert de Brus after his victory at Bannockburn in 1314 was to give certain Scottish burghs – Elgin, Forres, Nairn and Cromarty in the north and Lochmaben in the south – directly to his feudal lordly allies’ control. Bruce’s feudal reaction rolled back gains the burghs achieved in Wallace’s Rebellion. The peasants continued to put up resistance to feudal work levies and monetary rents began to become more common. Needless to say the lords found new ways to screw their tenants.

Indeed, so powerful became the position of Bruce’s aristocratic allies, that for long periods of ensuing Scottish history, they developed an arrogance which still allowed them not only to oppress their tenants, but to make continous challenges to the Scottish crown itself. Hence the emergence of the Clan Ranald-led Lordship of the Isles (in reality an attempt to assert feudal superiority in an area where more traditional customs and landholding long held out) and the notorious Douglas family in the Borders.

A good indicator of aristocratic feudal class solidarity prevailing over ‘national interest’ is highlighted by the case of John Gaunt. He was the Duke of Lancaster and was involved in the King of England’s military attempts to seize more areas of the Scottish Borders. However, in 1381 he took refuge in Edinburgh in the face of the English Peasants Revolt! Once this landmark struggle was defeated he returned to his old ways and brought another English army to Scotland! (14)

How do the SRSM and SWP view this Wallace Rebellion? For the SRSM, it was merely another link in the Wars of Scottish Independence. Yes, Robert the Bruce may have been a bit shaky in his allegiances in the beginning, but he took up the torch of Scottish independence after it slipped from Wallace’s grasp. They don’t recognise Bruce’s feudal counter-offensive, so keen are they to champion an independent Scottish state.

The SWP also dismiss the real significance of the Wallace Rebellion. This seems to follow from Neil’s own position that no bourgeois revolution can be absorbed into a socialist tradition of struggle and that socialists can not uncritically lay claim to pre-working class radicalism (15). Given that Wallace’s Rebellion long predates any bourgeois revolution, for the SWP there is therefore little to get worked up about. Whereas the SRSM see it as an episode in the perennial struggle for Scottish independence, the SWP see it as merely another episode in intra-feudal strife, therefore of little interest to socialists. Its truly radical significance as part of a wider challenge to feudalism, which developed contemporaneously in several countries, is downplayed by both. It needs an ‘internationalism form below’ view to see this clearly.

iv) The House of Stewart – hammer of the Gaels!

Since pre-capitalist struggles are all but written off by Neil, it isn’t until the seventeenth century, that the SWP show any real interest in Scottish history. Of course, the SRSM can identify with this earlier classic feudal period of the Scottish state’s independent development – the second golden age after that of King Alexander III, whose death had led to the invasion by Edward I. Yet this new period was dominated by yet another family of Norman French descent – the Stewarts (initially the Fitzalans, they later were renamed the Stuarts and much later still, when deposed, their followers became known as the Jacobites).

However, it is difficult to equate support for the Stewarts’ independent Scottish state with the championing of the traditional dominant language and culture – Gaelic. The historical record of the House of Stewart in this regard is clear. In 1380, John Fordun, the Court chronicler began the official demonisation of the Highlanders… a savage and untamed race… given to rapine… hostile to the English people {i.e. Lowlanders} and language… even to their own nation.(16) It was under the Stewarts that the Gaelic language was increasingly marginalised at Court and other centres of royal power and influence, particularly around the royal burghs.

One particularly unpleasant incident took place in 1396. King John supervised a gladatorial contest between Clan Chattan and Clan Kay on the North Inch at Perth. When the grisly struggle was over, while the air stank of warm blood, the King’s heralds declared that Clan Chattan to be the victors… Bow and sword, axe and dagger, slaughtered all but one of Clan Kay’s warriors (17). This was arranged ostensibly to settle a clan feud, but the king must have been pleased at the smaller number of recalcitrant Gaels in his kingdom at the end of the contest!

Under the Stuarts, Clan Gregor was later suppressed even more harshly than the Glencoe Macdonalds under William of Orange. They were forced to abandon their very name or be killed. The Stuarts broke the power of the Gaelic Lordship of the Isles and imposed the Lowland plantation of Ulster and Kintyre, whilst also encouraging the Gentlemen Adventurers of Fife to colonise Lewis (unsuccessfully as it turned out). They introduced the Statutes of Iona in 1609, with the intention that the Irish {i.e. Gaelic} language… causis of the continewance of barbaritie and incivilitie… be abolisheit and removit. (18) If championing the Scottish nation is equated with support for Gaeldom, then the SRSM have backed the wrong historical horse in supporting the Stewarts’ independent Scotland.

And what of the feudal lord/clan leaders alliance led by the Lord of the Isles? They defended a more traditional Gaelic order against the encroaching, more fully feudal power of the now largely English (Lallans)-speaking Scottish kings? Maybe they could be seen as alternative defenders of a ‘real’ Scottish culture. Unfortunately for the SRSM both the holders and pretenders to the Lordship sought to achieve their ends by means of an alliance with the Kings of England. By this alliance the territory of the Scottish state was to be dismembered! In 1462, at Ardtornish, John Macdonald, Lord of the Isles, enforced his vassals to make a treaty directed against the King of Scotland. By this treaty the whole people subject to him, was to be the vassal of England (19) in return for recognition of his feudal overlordship of an increased area of Scotland. Scotland south of the Forth/Clyde line was to be subordinate to the King of England. This wasn’t a ‘one-off’. In 1545 the last active claimant {to the Lordship of the Isles}, Donald Dubh, gathered four thousand swordsmen and a hundred and sixty galleys to play his part in the Rough Wooing {of Scotland} by his English allies! (20)

3. Jacobites And Covenanters

i) The forty year struggle between Jacobites and Whigs – clash of systems, a clash of classes

Of course the real reason the SRSM can not abandon the House of Stewart/Stuart is that they are the lineal ancestors of the Jacobites, who play such a prominent part in the SRSM‘s politics and culture. So it is not surprising that ‘dirks should be drawn’ when Neil, on behalf of the SWP, gives his critical support to the British Whigs in their forty year struggle with the Scottish Jacobites! However, all we have seen so far in the pages of the SSV in response to the SRSM‘s fierce clan charge, is a rather rapid, Johnny Cope-like, ‘Prestonpans retreat’ by Joe Hartney of the SWP (21)!

However a reading of Neil’s book reveals the strengths of his position on the Whigs. On this theoretical terrain he is the SWP‘s Cumberland (22) rather than its Cope! He is clear as to the class character of the Whigs. They were the political leaders of the modernising commercial capitalist merchants and landlords. Unencumbered by any need to support the independent Scottish state, Neil goes a considerable way to explain why this class and its political representatives sought an Anglo-Scottish alliance to promote their aims through a new British union state. Furthermore, he demonstates why this hybrid state, created after the 1707 Act of Union, was forced into a forty year period of internal conflict, as it tried to ‘digest’ a much more feudalised Scottish polity and economy. In this conflict the Jacobite leaders represented the defence of feudal reaction.

Neil, however, downplays the fact that the Jacobites were themselves an alliance of traditionalist feudal lords and clan chiefs (23). Now, it is certainly true that more and more clan chiefs had come to hold their land by feudal right, rather than depend on traditional (but unrecognised and hence very insecure) clan rights. Yet, the smaller clans, some of whose members broke with their official feudal superiors to join the Jacobites, were still a force which could not be completely identified with the Jacobites’ dominant feudal leaders. The lesser clan members were later to become the main victims after the crushing of the Jacobite Risings. Most of the Jacobite feudal leaders were eventually able both to accomodate to, and do quite nicely from the Hanoverian state, particularly in the colonial service. Here they formed the backbone of British loyalism in the American War of Independence!

Neil does try to absolve himself from giving any enthusiastic support to the Whigs and Hanoverians, especially given the brutal role of the British regiments after Culloden. Yet from the stance adopted in his book, Neil would have been forced to don his redcoat in 1746. Yet, like the humanitarian Whig (there weren’t many around at this time!), Duncan Forbes of Culloden, he would have tried to show some consideration for the wounded clansmen left on the battlefield of Culloden! (24) For Neil the tragic consequences following from the Jacobite defeat at Culloden are a case of what happened, happened and the resulting capitalist triumph provided the basis for a future working class, without which no socialism is possible (25).

ii) Divisions in the Jacobite feudal lord/clan leader alliance

However, two of the SSP‘s left nationalists – Donald Anderson and Kevin Williamson [who had yet to read Neil’s latest book! (26)] – are far less clear when it comes to the political nature of the opposing Jacobites. Kevin finds the Neil’s characterisation of the Jacobites as counter-revolutionary and allied to French absolutism as stomach-churning. For Donald all the Jacobite Rebellions of 1708, 1715, 1719 and 1745 were both anti-Unionist and popular resistance movements among the very poorest Highlanders (27).

Now certainly the Jacobite contingents included very poor Highlanders (nearly all armies recruit from the poorest sections of society). However, in most cases even they had been summoned to struggle by their clan chieftains. Ordinary clansmen played no part in the war councils of their chiefs. These decisions were confined to the chiefs’ immediate male relations and followers (28). Furthermore, the bigger the assembled host, the more likely it was that feudal duty (and the real threat of punitive disciplinary action from their feudal superiors), not clan solidarity, which brought them out. There were of course clan warriors well-seasoned in fighting who could be drawn voluntarily into the Jacobite ranks. Some of these had deserted their Hanoverian loyalist feudal superiors to do so. These clan forces did indeed make formidable opponents, at least until confronted by experienced and well-drilled Hanoverian soldiers at Culloden. But the feudal lords were always the dominant element in the Jacobite alliance.

However, there was a continuous tension between the Jacobite feudal leaders and many of the Jacobite-following clans less than willing to accept feudal discipline. In the previous century, the Marquis of Montrose, serving King Charles I, found considerable difficulty keeping the clans under his control. In his battles against the Covenanters, Montrose was constantly hindered (despite his undoubted military talents) by many clans’ unwillingness to fight for ‘King and Country’. They instead wanted to pursue their own more limited aims, particularly feuding against the Campbells led by the Earl of Argyll. In 1644 Montrose’s clan forces (Scottish and Irish) brutally sacked a largely royalist Aberdeen in a totally counter-productive action from the king’s point of view. Montrose denied them a follow-up sacking of Glasgow after their further defeat of the Covenanters at Kilsyth in 1645. Clansmen, led by Alasdair Colkitto (a Macdonald), deserted him to pursue their vendetta against the Campbells.

Similarly, in 1715, the feudal Jacobite lord, the Earl of Mar, found that 1,300 men had deserted his ranks before he had reached the first battleground at Sheriffmuir. Rob Roy MacGregor, the epitome of the independent-minded clan leader (29), ensured that he was well-positioned in the battle to leave the field unscathed. He had early resolved “to be no general’s fool, least of all Mar’s” (30). In the last Jacobite Rising of 1745-6, Bonnie Prince Charlie did prove to be an inspirational leader to the diminished number of clans who still supported the Jacobite cause. They also had a capable general in the feudal Lord George Murray, depute sheriff of Perthshire. It was Charles and the greater feudal leaders, not the minor clan chieftains, who decided on Jacobite strategy and tactics. Therefore, the British socialist historians, G.D.H. Cole and Raymond Postgate, were not far off the mark, when they stated that Bonnie Prince Charlie was marching… with a feudal army into a bourgeois society. (31)

iii) The Jacobite leaders and the politics of reaction and British colonialism

Nowhere did Bonnie Prince Charlie, or to give him his official name, Charles Edward Louis Casimir Silvester Xavier Maria Stuart (not a ‘Mac’ to be seen!), advocate defence of a Gaelic clan order. Yes, a certain Jacobite romanticism did attach to his ‘loyal clans’; much in the same way as British imperialists later adopted the Gurkhas. They were needed as Jacobite cannon fodder – quite literally at Culloden in 1746 as it turned out. And once the Jacobite Rising had been finally defeated, both the Pretender and most of his feudal supporters were able to escape to the royal courts of absolutist Europe or to the Papal dominions. Many of the minor clan leaders, office bearers and ranks, had no such guaranteed safe haven. They had to go on the run, persecuted at every turn, with their lives constantly threatened.

There is a world of difference between the boak-inducing Jacobite songs dedicated to Bonnie Prince Charlie – Charlie is My Darling and Wha’ll Be King But Charlie – and Robert Burns’ songs – Ye Jacobites by name and Macpherson’s Lament (32). An underground sub-Jacobite culture did linger on amongst the defeated and persecuted minor clan leaders and their fellow clansmen and women. This largely oral culture developed in response to continued state and landlord (including former leading Jacobites’) persecution. This culture made its way with the Highland migrants into the new urban and industrial centres found mainly in the Central Belt, which grew rapidly in the late eighteenth century. Here Highlanders (and later the Irish) met the Lowlanders moulded in another culture, that of the seventeenth century radical Covenanters.

The oppositional sub-Jacobite oral culture, with its songs and ballads, did contribute to a new artisan and working class culture. It certainly wasn’t the politics of Jacobitism, with its mystical emphasis on monarchy, legitimate succession and hierarchical deference to kings and lords. The leading Jacobite families and their high Tory politics, therefore, contributed nothing to the new democratic culture emerging amongst the radical weavers and other artisans of Glasgow, Paisley and elsewhere.

Where were the traditional Jacobite leaders at this time? Many had long become ‘turnkilts’, giving their support to the conquering Hanoverian regime. John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore, page to Charles Stuart at Holyrood in 1745, served first as colonial Governor of New York in 1770 and a year later as Governor of Virginia. Simon Fraser, son of Lord Lovat, fought at Falkirk with the Jacobites in 1746, but emerged as a leading British general in the Seven Years War against France. The Jacobite heroine, Dame Flora Macdonald, when living in exile in British American colonies, took an active part in ensuring Royal authority was not overthrown in North Carolina…{She} threw herself into the task of recruiting men, with determined energy (33). Four of her sons and a son-in-law went on to fight for King George.

The final political destination of the last prominent Scottish Jacobite families in the revolutionary years after 1789 is most revealing.

“Revolution destroyed this ethos absolutely and at once… The spectre of Republicanism rendered the traditional opposition of Hanoverian and Stuart obsolete at a stroke. By 1816, Alexander Campbell could write that the immediate offspring of the true Jacobite families are the most zealous supporters of the illustrious House of Brunswick. Jacobitism was thus revived as a component in an aggressive counter-revolutionary movement determined to enhance the power of the British state by presenting the Hanoverians as a focus of kingly mystique” (34).

Faced with the prospect of the 1797 United Scotsmen-led Rising, the husband of prominent Jacobite, Lady Nairne, joined the local loyalist militia, the Perthshire Light Dragoons! Nor was this an isolated event. James Connolly, a leading upholder of internationalism from below, noted the following in his superb Labour in Irish History.

“The old Franco-Irish (35) in a body volunteered into the English army to help put down the new French Republic, and as a result Europe witnessed the spectacle of the new republican Irish exiles fighting for the French Revolution, and the sons of the old aristocratic Irish exiles fighting under the banner of England to put down that revolution” (36).

Donald is therefore way off the mark when he writes that it was an easy step from Jacobitism to the Republican risings of 1797 to 1812 (37). Individuals with a Jacobite background, like Robert Burns’ friend and political ally, the redoubtable Dr. William Maxwell, certainly became Jacobins (38), but no recognised Jacobite tendency, least of all its remaining leaders, supported the French Revolution – quite the opposite.

The political essence of Jacobitism was and remains support for the House of Stuart’s claim to the Scottish (or British) crown. Today’s Jacobites try to put a modern democratic gloss on the Jacobites’ support for the restoration of the Scottish Parliament after 1707. The Stuart record on both the Scottish and English Parliaments is wholly part of ‘the divine right of kings’ tradition. They saw parliaments solely as instruments of royal policy. The most independent parliaments in relation to the monarchy were those formed in the revolution of 1649 and after the post-1688 ‘Glorious Revolution’ in opposition to the Stuarts. The Jacobites’ main sponsors were the absolutist Bourbon kings of France. Louis XV hardly bothered to summon parliament in his lifetime.

A quick look at any current Jacobite-promoting website (39) shows a sycophancy towards royalty and the aristocracy which can match anything emanating from the forelock-tugging supporter of ‘Elizabrit’ Windsor or from readers of Country Life! Some Jacobites are still, even today, hawking around yet another pretender, ‘Price Michael’, albeit with the more limited aim of only claiming the crown of an independent Scotland! Crivens, help ma boab!

iv) Scotland’s lost revolutionary tradition

So who represents Scotland’s revolutionary tradition in the struggles between 1638 and 1692? The rest of this article will show that it is the radical wing of the Covenanters – the Whiggamores or the Western Association in the first phase of the Scottish Revolution and the Cameronians or the United Societies in the second phase – who can best claim this legacy.

Why is it that Scottish socialists today are largely unaware of this important part of Scotland’s own revolutionary tradition? Certainly this tradition was appreciated by later revolutionary and radical organisations – not least the United Scotsmen and their successor organisations up to 1820; by nineteenth and early twentieth century radicals and even as recently as the heyday of the Independent Labour Party in the 1920s.

One reason is that in today’s increasingly secular world, it is much harder to understand the motivation of people who held deep religious convictions and used biblical language to articulate their feelings and demands. Furthermore, when you are dealing with part of the Presbyterian tradition, it is hard not to think of the deep social conservatism of the Church of Scotland right up to recent times. When Robert Burns wrote his highly entertaining Holy Willie’s Prayer he was challenging a force which still had political and social clout and could affect people’s lives. Today we can more easily laugh at the Reverend I.M. Jolly. When James Hogg wrote his brilliant novel, Private Memoirs and Confessions of A Justified Sinner in 1824, he produced a scathing attack on the contradictions and hypocrisy found in Calvinist theology, with its concept of ‘the elect’ . To the Cameronians the elect were the equivalent of the twentieth century ‘vanguard party’ (40).

Are there not still dangers today in trying to rehabilitate a bunch of ‘prods’ , thoroughgoing Calvinists, whose seventeenth century representatives are to be found on banners carried by the Orange Order, Pastor Jack Glass and Ian Paisley?! Religious sectarianism remains a force to be reckoned within Scotland and particularly in Northern Ireland. Yes, this should certainly give us pause for thought. However, look at what today’s reactionary unionists celebrate in the Covenanting tradition. It is the now outdated religious chaff (especially its anti-Catholic aspects). They totally ignore its revolutionary and republican kernel! Revolutionary republicanism became the dominant feature of the politics of a later group of radical left-wing Presbyterians. They were to be found in the leadership of the United Irishmen in Ulster in the 1790’s. Does Paisley celebrate them? United Irishman martyr, William Orr, was hanged at Carrickfergus in October 1797. His last words on the gallows were, I am no traitor. I die a persecuted man for a persecuted country. Great Jehovah receive my soul. I die in the true faith of a presbyterian! (41) Is Orr on Paisley’s Independent Orange Order banners? Paisley the republican – aye right!

Socialists in revolutionary organisations nowadays hear very similar arguments, particularly from enthusiastic new supporters of the anti-globalisation/anti-capitalist movement. Why bother with all that outdated guff about the Russian Revolution. Just look at what happened! Organised parties lead either to Stalinism or New Labour – don’t they?!

Of course, the ideologues and apologists of the global corporations and the Right don’t ignore history. They misuse such examples to pour scorn on any challenge to their ‘New World Order’ and to their own ongoing crimes against humanity. We need to know that people have always fought back against oppression and exploitation – to show that struggle for freedom is part of ‘human nature’! Another world is possible. The Cameronians believed that too in the late seventeenth century.

v) British Marxists in Scotland open the door to left nationalism and worse!

If the reactionary unionist Right is very selective in what it sees in the radical left-wing Cameronians, then most of today’s socialists in Scotland are confused and misleading. When the old CPGB began to pay more attention to Scottish history, Willie Thomson wrote that, the intransigent sectarianism dispayed by the irreconcilable Covenanters {the Cameronians} evokes parallels with the Provisional IRA! (42) Now what would Paisley make of that?!

The question today is – why does somebody like Neil, a committed socialist activist and serious left wing historian, also feel forced to downplay the radical left wing Covenanting tradition and the Cameronians in particular? This is where Neil’s left unionism takes its toll. He claims there was no unified Scottish polity and economy before it was imposed from above by the British state, so there couldn’t have been a Scottish revolutionary tradition. He devotes a special section of the final chapter of his book (43) dismissing the radical left wing Covenanter/Cameronian challenge.

Therefore, it is not surprising that, if self-declared marxists can’t identify Scotland’s own revolutionary tradition, then many socialists are going to be attracted to a seemingly radical alternative. It is precisely this which is offered by the pseudo-Jacobite politics and ersatz-Gaelic culture of the left nationalists. Judging from the left nationalist assault in the SSV letters page and on the SSP electronic debate, it would appear that Jacobite illusions are far more widespread amongst our members than Whig illusions!

How did Jacobite politics (which had their origins in counter-revolution) come to have such an influence on the Left. One obvious reason is that because British Left-orientated parties and groups have until very recently have had nothing significant to say about Scottish history. Therefore the field was left completely open to the romantic Jacobite view. Ever since King Geordie’s Jaunt in 1820 (44), stage-managed by High Tory, anti-Radical, Sir Walter Scott, this Jacobitism had formed a subordinate part of British culture. The kilt is an acceptable form of Court dress. There have long been ‘Hooray Hamishes’  to supplement the ‘Hooray Henrys’  from south of the border. As well as the dominant Whig view, this Jacobite alternative has been there in the background, particularly in Scotland. It has also contributed to a maudlin (Skye Boat Song) and comic (Hey Donald, Whar’s Your Troosers), yet distinctly, Scottish culture. However this has been so non-challenging it long formed part of the British Broadcasting Corporation’s TV output, particularly on the White Heather Club and Andy Stewart Show.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, a small group of Scottish cultural nationalists began to take their inspiration from events in Ireland – particularly the emphasis on championing Gaelic identity. This meant making a sharp break, at the cultural level anyhow, with all things British (45). They also emphasised the Jacobite connection. The Honourable Ruaraidh Erskine of Marr founded a nationalist, Gaelic/English magazine, Guth na Bliadhna. Sometime, soon after the First World War, he, along with William Gillies, formed the Scots National League.

James Connolly, however, had gone to considerable lengths in his Labour in Irish History, to show that many of the figures celebrated by Irish Nationalists were quite reactionary. In particular, he challenged any radical pretensions of Irish Jacobitism. The only time when such politics might have been debated in Scotland, was in the short period when John Maclean began to see the significance of Connolly’s support for a Workers’ Republic in Ireland. Maclean transferred his own previous support for British socialism to support for a Scottish Workers’ Republic. This formed part of a strategy to break-up the British state and Empire in the international struggle for World Communism. The International Revolutionary Wave only lasted from 1916-1921 and Maclean himself died in 1924. Therefore the job of producing a ‘Labour in Scottish History’ was not undertaken by the revolutionary left in Scotland. Maclean’s Scottish Workers’ Republican Party seemed to confine itself to more bread and butter issues, whilst the new CPGB was hostile to Scottish self-determination.

Instead, the beginnings of a debate over the history and future of Scotland took place in the cultural sphere. It is often the case that, after a major political setback, the only radical arena open to express opposition is that of culture. The Irish Literary Renaisance itself took off, shortly after the containment of the Land League struggles and the ruination of Parnell and therefore the Irish Home Rule Movement in the 1880s. More recently, we saw an explosion in Scottish cultural production after the defeat of the 1979 Devolution Referendum. However, the first such cultural revival here, the Scottish Literary Renaissance, took place in the 1920s and ’30s in the face of earlier major political setbacks. Christopher Grieve, better known as Hugh MacDiarmid (46) is the best-known representative from this period. However, two other cultural giants also dominated the scene – the Gaelic poet, Sorley MacLean and the north-eastern novelist, James Leslie Mitchell, better known as Lewis Grassic Gibbon. All would call themselves communists. However, in the case of MacDiarmid, it was a troubled support – he jumped from an admiration of Mussolini to that of Lenin!

MacDiarmid adopted a very firm pro-Jacobite stance (47). It was particularly the aristocratic element of Jacobitism which appealed to him. Only he thought that a new Scottish society of the future should be under the leadership of a new aristocracy of makars (48). In the case of MacDiarmid and others, particularly the author, Tom MacDonald or Fionn McColla, a strongly Scottish Jacobitism was used to promote anti-English feeling too. McColla, following Erskine of Marr, also took a firm stance against the life-denying Free Presbyterian Church, holding it and its predecessor to be responsible for the suppression of Gaelic culture (49). Now, there is little doubt that the Free Presbyterian Church was an extremely socially and religiously conservative force in the Highlands. However, it is wrong to project the effect of the Free Church and its successors on nineteenth and twentieth century society, back into the eighteenth and seventeenth centuries. Before the Covenanting tradition bifurcated into its progressive secular and its conservative religious components (see section 8.ii during this first International Revolutionary Wave (1789 – 1820), its earlier religious/political phase also contained a strong progressive element (50).

It is interesting that the native Gaelic speaker, Sorley Maclean, felt he had to chide Montrose-born, Gaelic learner, McColla. Speaking of his own experiences of Skye, MacLean wrote that, A renegade Seceder (51) makes quite a good Marxist and renegades are now very common (52). Similarly, Lewis Grassic Gibbon, just before he died in 1935, was writing a sympathetic novel on the Covenanters.

The problem of flirting with right-wing Jacobitism was highlighted when MacDiarmid helped to form the shadowy fascist organisation, Clann Albain, in 1930. This type of politics has its lineal descendent in today’s Siol nan Gaidheal, which also inspired Scottish and Settler Watch (53). What took place in the 1930s as a cultural battle, takes place today as a political one, particularly in the context of a growing movement for Scottish self-determination.

But despite their seemingly opposing stances, there is once more a relationship between the SWP‘s still remaining left unionism and the SRSM‘s left nationalism. When it comes to examining Scottish history, the SWP and the SRSM downplay the significance of both phases of the Scottish Revolution (1638-1649 and 1680-1690). The SWP wants to deny any Scottish Revolution, the better to highlight their later British Revolution. The SRSM can not cope with any class division which can be seen to divide their independent Scottish state or nation. You have to take an ‘internationalism from below’ approach before you can get a deeper understanding of what has really occurred in Scotland’s history. Furthermore you can identify the revolutionary tradition which did indeed inform the infant working class in Scotland and Ireland, as we shall see later in section 8.i.

4. The Scottish Revolution And Revolutionaries In Scotland

i) The Scottish Revolution from below and the British revolution from above

Now the SRSM and the SWP will no doubt continue to flash their broadswords and bayonets, invoking their ‘Killiekrankies’  and ‘Cullodens’, in the pages of the SSV and in the pubs of Glasgow. Yet both have adopted political frameworks which blind them to a full understanding of the period. The one thing they do agree on (give a couple of years) is the significance of the period between 1692 and 1746 (which the SRSM would backdate to 1689 and the first major Jacobite victory on the Braes o’ Killiekrankie-o). For Donald the picture is uncomplicated – over this period the Jacobites were merely the latest in a long chain of patriotic torchbearers defending Scottish independence.

Neil, in contrast, gives critical support to the political force which developed as the British Whigs, in both Scotland and England. He explains very well, using other examples, why this period is one of revolution from above (54). However the part of the title on the book’s cover which is highlighted – Scottish Revolution – is quite misleading. What Neil is really analysing is the ‘British revolution from  above’ over this period. Now this title would no doubt make Donald choke on his Glenmorangie, but I also suspect that the publishers knew that it would sell far fewer copies in its target market – Scotland!

The Scottish Revolution which did occur (not Neil’s later ‘British revolution form above’) went down to defeat, not once but twice! The first phase of the Scottish Revolution began in 1638 and triggered off a wider revolution throughout the ‘Thee Kingdoms’ ruled over by the House of Stuart – Scotland, Ireland and England (55). The most radical force to emerge in Scotland in this phase was the Western Association or the Whiggamores. The Scottish Revolution, however, stalled and became part of a wider English/British Revolution and Republic led by Oliver Cromwell in 1649. It then shared in defeat and the return of the Stuart monarchy with the Restoration in 1660. This period will only be dealt with briefly, before dealing with the second phase of the Scottish Revolution where a more independent radical left wing Covenanter movement emerged.

The opening shots of the second phase of the Scottish Revolution took place in 1680. In ‘Killing Times’ that followed it looked like this would be very short-lived. Then, in 1685, came a failed attempt at ‘revolution from above’ in the form of joint Scottish/English risings led by the aristocratic Covenanter, the Earl of Argyll and by Charles II‘s illegitimate son, the Duke of Monmouth. They were not supported by the new radical left wing of the Covenanters, organised in the United Societies or the Cameronians. This new force was the lineal descendent of the Whiggamores.

These Cameronians went on to organise a ‘revolution from below’ which exploded into action in 1689. Then for two years the ‘revolution form below’ (led by the Cameronians) clashed with a ‘counter-revolution-from-within-the-revolution’ (its supporters entered history as the Whigs) as both faced the threat of ‘White’  (56) counter-revolution (led by the Jacobites).

ii) Scotland’s revolutionary Covenanting tradition – the Whiggamores in the first phase of the Scottish Revolution

The Covenanters got their name from the National Covenant signed in 1638 in Greyfriars Churchyard in Edinburgh in 1638. The leading signatories represented an aristocratic feudal opposition to the growing absolutist designs of King Charles I. Most of the Scottish nobles signed, including both Argyll and Montrose. They saw an opportunity to weaken the king’s growing despotic powers and no doubt enhance their own. However, this cross-class alliance {for it was supported by many lairds, merchants and even tenant farmers} was not to last. As revolutionary situations developed in the mid and late seventeenth century, the most moderate wing would ‘peel off’. In the first revolutionary wave {from 1638-1649} they rejoined the Stuarts (e.g. Montrose). During the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688-90, the moderate wing emerged as the Scottish Whigs.

In the first phase of the Scottish Revolution after 1638,

“the widening active support for the Covenant began to change what had begun as a noble dominated campaign. In the parishes of the south where radical ministers, with a tradition of independent organisation in open air meetings (conventicles) had much influence, the covenant was perceived as a crusade… It was at this level that the National Covenant was most dangerous, politicising the masses(57).

The successful actions of the Scottish Covenanters paved the way for the intervention of revolutionaries in England, extending the revolution throughout the three kingdoms. In the initial stages, English anti-Royalists took their lead from Scotland. The Scottish leadership of the developing Revolution was underscored by the signing of the Solemn League and Covenant in 1643. It formed the basis for a military, political and religious alliance against Charles II. It was during the misnamed English Revolution that the openly republican Independents led by Cromwell, and the even more revolutionary Levellers, came to the fore. When the Engagers (58), or the moderate wing of the Covenanting alliance, deserted to the King (59), the Remonstrants (60), who formed the radical, more ‘lower orders’ wing of the Covenanters, were given their impetus by a new force – the Western Association. They formed an alliance with Cromwell’s forces and they

“advanced upon Edinburgh, urging their horses with the cry Whiggamore! and thus giving the name to themselves and to the political party that would inherit a dilution of their revolutionary zeal {the Whigs}” (61).

Now Neil and I do share one particular admiration and that is for Walter Makey’s book (62). Therefore it is worth looking at his evaluation of the radical Covenanters at this time.

“The Western Remonstrance rested on the proposition that the King was insincere {in his new opportunist declaration of support for the Covenant} and that he could not be granted the substance of power until he had given substantial proof of a real change in his principles and this was a process that could be prolonged to the point of creating a de facto republic” (63).

The actions of the Western Association were successful in establishing an anti-Engager government in Scotland.

“The regime of 1649 was using a feudal Parliament to attack feudalism itself. It was a difficult relationship arising out of the peculiar circumstances of the day… The remonstrants wanted a King without power and a Parliament without magnates” (64).

“The Whiggamores were the real red guards of the Scottish Revolution” (65).

You can’t get much clearer than this assessment!

The Remonstrants, however, baulked at maintaining their alliance with Cromwell, faced with the prospect of rule by even ‘lower orders’. This is what the rise of the Levellers in England seemed to signify to them. To the ‘commisars’ or ministers of the ‘one-state/one Party’ Scottish Presbyterians, the Levellers were hated ‘sectaries’ (66). Therefore, the majority of the Remonstrants took up arms against Cromwell, only to be defeated at Dunbar in 1650. However, two of their key military leaders, Ker and Strachan, favoured negotiated peace with Cromwell (67). English republicans did not set out to conquer Scotland… after Dunbar Cromwell wanted a negotiared settlement (68). Their views unfortunately did not prevail.

iii) 1649, the ‘counter-revolution within the revolution’ and other historic possibilities

Cromwell’s defeats of the majority of the anti-Engagers at Dunbar, and also of the Engagers and their English royalist allies at Worcester in 1651, blocked the path to an interesting historical might-have-been’. The most economically, socially and politically advanced society of the day lay in the United Provinces of the Dutch Republic. Scottish Presbyterians and many English Independents looked to the Dutch as leaders of radical Protestantism. This Dutch state was organised as a confederal republic. Cromwell’s reluctant occupation of Scotland (and not so reluctant occupation of Ireland) led instead to the formation of what became, in effect, a greater English Republic. A confederal republic would certainly have been the most advanced possible political outcome at the time, especially compared with the other two options – the Stuarts’ monarchist union and Cromwell’s military union. Such a confederation existed in the Dutch Republic. Yet it was under a much more immediate political and military threat from absolutist France.

However, the most revolutionary force in the Revolution of the Three Kingdoms, the Levellers, went down to defeat at Cromwell’s hands at Burford in 1649. This paved the way for ‘counter-revolution within the revolution’ – a phenomenon which was to reappear in future revolutions (69). The Levellers’ political challenge represented a very different path of economic, social and political development to that which eventually triumphed in these islands. The Levellers wanted a small property owners’ democracy. They were prepared to ally with remnant communal property holders, both in England and Ireland (70). Instead, Cromwell’s victory opened the path to large-scale landlord agricultural and merchant commercial capitalism. This also paved the way for that very British compromise – the constitutional monarchy. It took a further ‘adjustment’ to achieve it through the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688-91. This replaced Charles II‘s and James II/VII‘s attempts to create an absolute monarchy after the Restoration of 1660.

It was Cromwell’s military regime which prepared the ground for this reactionary Restoration.

“Cromwell first emerged in history in the 1630’s defending the commoners against the new capitalist fen drainers {in East Anglia}. However, by 1654 he was helping the Earl of Bedford and his company of Adventurers in their dirty work of evicting fen farmers of Huntingdon, accepting 200 acres for himself, ex gratia, for his services(71).

After defeating the Levellers, the Cromwellian regime made an alliance with the more conservative defeated anti-Engager majority in Scotland, and then accomodated to traditional feudal pressure after the 1653 Glencairn Rising.

In Ireland, Cromwell seized the rebels’ land and handed most of it over to merchants and others. They added to the ever-growing large-scale landowning class. They went on to form the most reactionary section of British politics, a bastion of unionism frequently seeking alliance with the most conservative section of ‘the mainland’ parties. This is why these last ditch upholders of the British monarchy still revere republican Cromwell! Cromwell also promoted a war against Spain in which Jamaica was seized. This allowed the English and later British Slave Trade to develop on a really large scale. The slaveholders and traders became another reactionary force in British society.

With reaction growing everywhere it is not surprising then that it was Cromwell’s friend, Lord Fairfax (72), along with his military governor in Scotland, General Monck, who arranged for the return of Charles II, at the Restoration in 1660 (73). The revolution had been undermined from within.

iv) Scotland’s Covenanting tradition in a period of reaction after 1660

“The decades following the Stuart Restoration in 1660 were dark indeed. To contemporaries, living over three hundred years ago, they must have appeared very like the spread of fascism in the {1920’s} and 1930’s… {In Scotland a} veritable White Terror was launched by the Earl of Middleton and Lord Rothes… They acted directly in the interests of those aristocrats who had been petrified by their loss of control in the preceding revolutionary years and were determined to restore their law and order (74).

However, a new Covenanting resistance emerged in this period. Politically it moved beyond its Western Association predecessor. It was much more firmly an organisation of the ‘lower orders’.

“One effect of the desertion of the nobility to Episcopacy {King Charles II‘s church} and the relative weakness of the merchants (75), was to leave the organisation of the Covenanting cause to those of a ‘lower order’. This included the small merchants and artisans in the burghs, and the ‘bonnet lairds’ , tenant farmers and artisans in the countryside – the men of small property. The dissident ministers came largely from these classes. They continued the old Covenanting tradition of holding (illegal) open air meetings (conventicles) The government tried a mixture of concession and repression. It issued Indulgences by which ministers, who swore their loyalty to the Crown, could continue to preach. In the south-west, where the Covenanters were strongest, many refused to recognise Charles II‘s ‘indulged’ ministers (76). The whole area was dragooned in 1678 by the ‘Highland Host’ reinforced by Lowlands militia and regular foot… {They were} quartered with orders to disarm the country and live freely upon it… (77)

“The radical Covenanters fought back, assassinating Archbishop Sharp and defeating a Royalist force at Drumclog in Ayrshire in 1679. The King sent his illegitimate son, the Duke of Monmouth, to lead the Crown forces in crushing this rebellion. The two sides met at Bothwell Bridge. Before this battle an acrimonious dispute broke out between representatives of the wealthier cavalry and the poorer footsoldiers. The former left the field in advance of battle leaving the footsoldiers… to put up a gallant defence in the face of overwhelming odds… {The class divide became clear and a new radical left wing emerged.} In response to these developments, the lower orders demonstrated their new-found class feeling in their language directed at the aristocratic Covenanters. After these defections and judgements are over, ye may see nettles grow out of old bedchambers, and their names, memorials, and posterity to perish from this earth (78).

It was this hardcore remaining after Bothwell Bridge {who} formed the United Societies (79).

5. The Cameronians Organise the ‘Revolution from Below’

i) The emergence of the Cameronians signals the second phase of the Scottish Revolution

The new radical left wing Covenanters had secretly produced Scotland’s first republican programme, the Queensferry Paper, in 1680. It stated that, We shall no more commit of the government of ourselves and the making of laws for us, to any one single person or lineal successor (80). This organisation had formed largely in response to the situation in the south-west. A new organisation was called the United Societies. The Queensferry Paper was its founding ‘programme’. The United Societies have become better known as the Cameronians after Richard Cameron. He rode with some followers into Sanquhar in Dumfriesshire in 1680 and publicly pinned up a challenge to the Stuarts on the town cross. A month later he was killed at the nearby battle of Airds Moss.

The state reaction to the Cameronians was to launch the period of Scottish history known as ‘The Killing Times’. The repression was severe and

“the life expectancy of the leaders was very short… Yet the remarkable thing is that despite the level of repression, the United Societies grew. In 1683 there were 80 societies with 7000 members. In Hector Macpherson’s excellent book, The Cameronians’ Philosopher – Alexander Shields, we are told that the Societies represented virtually a state within a state. They cast out anyone who took bonds rendered by the government, who paid taxes to the civil authorities or stipends to the indulged clergy, made use of a government pass, voluntarily appeared before any court of law, supplied any commodities to the enemy or allowed any of these in their name…

“Establishment historians, such as Rosalind Mitchison, denigrate the evidence of The Killing Times, saying it has been mightily exaggerated. Yet all over the south of Scotland, in particular, there are memorials to individuals slaughtered during this period. Copies of their documented evidence can still be found in many libraries, published as A Cloud of Witnesses. The ultra-conservative and anti-radical, Sir Walter Scott, wrote what today appears to be a surprisingly sympathetic account of these Covenanting times in his novel, Old Mortality (81). This was inspired by Robert Paterson, who had been given this particular nickname. He was an itinerant stonemason, who spent much of his time erecting and repairing gravestones and memorials to the Covenanters.”

“It was a major achievement of the United Societies that they kept a record of many of those killed and made sure their names were remembered” (82).

The Cameronians behaved exactly like {modern} national liberation movements which try to monitor and record the atrocities of government backed death squads… They also had to support prisoners in places like Bass Rock (83), the Stuart government’s Robbens Island of its day, as well as other isolated spots like Dunnottar Castle (84).

The Cameronians refused, largely on anti-aristocratic grounds, to give their support to the joint Argyll/Monmouth Rising in 1685. They also remembered their recent defeat at the hands of Monmouth at Bothwell Bridge in 1679, when he was supporting the Crown. The yeomen and weavers carrying the old English Levellers colours, who backed Monmouth in England, had no such direct experience of him. His behaviour after defeat was pathetic. Those supporters not killed in battle at Sedgemoor in Somerset suffered grievously afterwards at the hands of Judge Jeffries’ Bloody Assizes (85).

ii) Both wings of the Left downplay the Cameronians in their most revolutionary phase

Undefeated therefore, the Cameronians went on to play a key part in the revolution from below against William of Orange and his Whig magnates backers’ ‘revolution form above’. Both, of course, faced the threat of white’ Jacobite counter-revolution (86). One of the key things which unites Neil and the older CPGB historians covering this period, is their dismissal and marginalisation of the role of the Cameronians. Thus Victor Kiernan (87), backed by Willie Thomson (88), has written off the Cameronians as backwood looking, a historical deadend, with whatever influence they possessed having peaked before the crucial years of 1688-90. Neil also very much downplays the significance of the Cameronians. In one of the specific sections of Neil’s book challenging my own views (89) he states that, I confer on them a significance they did not possess and that I abandon history for useful myth! (90) In response Neil quotes Jeffrey Vogel favourably.

“Marx is on the side of the oppressed in the sense that he traces his lineage back to Spartacus, an inspiring example. But this does not mean that Marx would support the victory of Spartacus at the cost of future human development, for which large-scale exploitation is indispensable!” (91)

It is difficult to know where to begin with this. Immediately it reeks of Stalinism where millions of peasants and workers have to be sacrificed for ‘progress” Here ‘progress’ is usually measured in tons of coal and steel not greater human freedom! Obviously for Vogel (and for Neil?) the end of slavery wasn’t necessarily part of future human development. However, worse still, the statement is dishonest. The only reason so many know of the name, Spartacus, is because his slave armies did defeat the mighty Roman legions on a number of occasions. If ‘Vogel-progress’ was to happen, they should have buckled under for large-scale exploitation or have been defeated at the earliest possible opportunity. In which case we would not have heard of Spartacus; just as the names of thousands of other less successful resistance leaders are now lost to the historical record.

What we have here is a glaring example of what the great English socialist historian, Edward P. Thompson, called the enormous condescension of posterity, or in Vogel’s case ‘academic detachment’  with a ‘leftist gloss’. I much prefer Thompson’s support for poor stockingers, Luddite croppers and ‘obsolete’ handweavers.

“Their opposition to the new industrialism may have been backward-looking. Their communitarian ideals may have been fantasies. Their insurrectionary conspiracies may have been foolhardy. But they lived through these times of acute social disturbance and we did not. Their aspirations were valid in terms of their own experience” (92).

However, it isn’t necessary to go as far as Thompson, in devoting our time to unearthing the history of every declining artisan or working class trade. The Cameronians were not a particular trade group but an effective revolutionary fighting force which changed the course of history. They didn’t win on their own terms but they mightily helped to prevent a White counter-revolutionary victory, and to push the 1690 Revolution Settlement in Scotland considerable further than King William’s backers wanted. They left their historical mark on the Scottish constitution.

iii) Organising for the Revolution

In the crucial climax of the second phase of the Scottish Revolution, the parallels with future revolutions are striking. Although ‘The Killing Times’ had taken a heavy toll on the domestic leaders of the United Societies, their underground organisation had continued to grow (93). Several leaders lived in exile in the Dutch Republic. This was a major centre of revolutionary organisation at the time. Here English, Scottish and French Calvinists and Independents; aristocratic oppositionists, merchants and ministers all mingled and plotted. It was here the joint but abortive Argyll and Monmouth Risings were planned in 1685.

Leading Cameronian, Alexander Shields, wrote and published his key revolutionary text, A Hind Let Loose in the Dutch Republic. The Cameronians’ strongest base certainly lay in Dumfries, Galloway and the Borders. These were the areas furthest from the royalist policed cities such as Edinburgh, where oppositionists had to live an even more clandestine existence. However, because of their leaders’ wider connections, the United Societies had an internationalist view of the world. They saw themselves part of a much wider movement. Others fighting for the cause included “the Reformed Church in France {the Huguenots} howling under the paw of the devouring lion, the French Tyrant; or of Hungary under the tearing claws of that ravenous eagle, the tyrant of Austria; or those of Piedmont under the grassant tyranny of that little tiger of Savoy” (94). Here we have a roll-call of Europe’s absolutist states and their opposition.

Therefore, despite attempts to write them off as a marginal, backwood looking, virtually parochial group, the leaders of the United Societies were acutely aware of international political developments around them… {In their Correspondences, they organised for the circulation of Declarations – manifestoes or programmes – which addressed contemporary events}. At their General Meetings, held in the open, in a secluded valley or on a sheltered hillside {protected by their own armed guards} the United Societies democratically debated the political situation and their strategy and tactics. In response to the government’s employment of a number of particularly oppressive agents – Sir James Turner (‘Butcher Turner’), John Graham of Claverhouse (later Jacobite hero, but ‘Bluidy Clavers’ to the Cameronians), Lord Advocate, Sir George Mackenzie (‘Bluidy Mackenzie’), Sir John Grierson of the Lag (‘Bluidy Lag’) (95), Sir Thomas Dalyell (direct descendent of Labour MP, Tam Dalyell of the Binns) and the Covenanter turncoat, Archbishop Sharp – the United Societies discussed The Apologetical Declaration. This reluctantly conceded the necessity for selective assassination. In the case of Archbishop Sharp, this had already been carried out on Magus Moor, outside St. Andrews.

iv) The Cameronians debate a new revolutionary opportunity

After surviving and organising throughout ‘The Killing Times’ a new opportunity arose.

“When King James continued his slide to absolutism, with his open Catholicism and support for Louis XIV, even the larger merchants and commercial landowners in England became alarmed. However, it wasn’t until the birth of James’ son, which would almost guarantee a Catholic succession {and continued subordination towards absolutist France} that they invited William of Orange, the Dutch Stadtholder {like a President albeit with royalist pretensions}, to be king” (96).

“In England, William’s overthrow of James in 1688 was bloodless – hence the name Glorious Revolution. In Scotland and Ireland this proved to be far from the case. The news of William’s arrival provoked a riot in Edinburgh, against James VII (97) and his recent Catholic appointees, the Chancellor, Earl of Perth and the Secretary of State, Earl of Melfort… This is exactly what the Scottish nobles feared and they had to manoeuvre smartly to contain events.”

“As a consequence the eventual Revolutionary Settlement of 1690 pushed further than William desired.. {There was a} more polarised position here. There was a more serious counter-revolutionary threat from the Jacobites… {partly} because of the unbroken strength of the United Societies, who reminded the Scottish nobles of the dreaded days of 1649.”

“The United Societies had to decide their attitude to the latest turn of events. At last there was a chance of the repression being lifted. A heated debate took place at a General Meeting near Wanlockhead… All present saw the limitations of a change backed by many of the treacherous magnates and larger merchants. {These Cameronians} weren’t prepared to dissolve themselves into a new Covenanter ‘Popular Front’. A minority, which was later to emerge under the leadership of Robert Hamilton, opposed any critical support for William. However, they were defeated by the majority, led by Alexander Shields. He argued for the need for support, whilst maintaining the right to act independently… We can see an early from of the debate between Popular Front, sectarianism and the United Front.”

v) The Cameronians push the magnates’ ‘Glorious Revolution’ forward

“Quick action was required, however. James VII‘s main supporters planned a coup d’etat, at the Edinburgh Convention of the Estates… They hoped to force Scotland into the camp of counter-revolution. The United Societies armed their men and marched them into Edinburgh. First they rabbled the curates. This meant they turned out all James’ supporters from their kirks. This was done without loss of life and was a very disciplined action” (98).

Neil dismisses the key independent role of the Cameronians. Yet the rabblings of 1688-89 could not have been carried out without the participation of people who had either remained within the Church of Scotland throughout the Restoration period, or who had rejoined it after the Revolution (99). There are two issues here. First Neil neglects to mention a significant group, particularly from or near Edinburgh. Many of these hadn’t been members throughout the Restoration period, but would have been faced with the choice of imprisonment in the Tolbooth, if they hadn’t gone for another option. Over the years, many reluctantly transferred their public allegiance to the indulged ministers. These were the ministers who had been won over to the state. The fact that a state, normally quite prepared to resort to imprisonment, torture and execution, also had to make concessions, shows the continuing strength of the radical Covenanting opposition.

However, another indication of the political sophistication of the United Societies is that they were able to take advantage of the precarious situation in Edinburgh in March 1689. They organised city dwellers, including Church of Scotland members from beyond their own immediate ranks – an excellent example of the united front in action!

It is the next phase of ‘the revolution from below’ which Neil completely downplays, so keen is he to clear the decks for his ‘revolution form above’.

“A Watching Committee was elected to supervise the Convention. The armed societies soon put an end to Claverhouse’s planned coup d’eteat. He fled to the Highlands. With the Convention overawed, the Societies’ General Meetings began to assume the function of a Provisional Government according to Macpherson. Although a better analogy would be that of Dual Power(100).

“There is substantial evidence that many of them would like to have had a republic, as many men had come to believe that all kings were oppressors “(101).

Neil ignores this period of ‘Dual Power’ and focusses instead on the limits of the Convention Parliament. He quotes favourably the later Radical and Scottish Jacobin, James Callender. Does anybody compare the packed convention Parliaments of the two kingdoms, in 1689, with the democratical members of the first national assembly of France? (102). Well, my focus is primarily on the situation of dual power and the independent role of the United Societies in the revolution, not the Scottish Convention and later Parliament. So a more recent analogy, in this case, would be Neil highlighting all the shortcomings of the post-February Russian Provisional Government, but ignoring the role of workers’ councils (soviets) and workers militia (red guards) in the same period. It is this latter development which should be of most interest to socialists today. The later noble-packed Scottish Parliament is more a product of ‘the counter-revolution within the revolution’. However, it is worth looking more closely at the Scottish Convention. Initially, it wasn’t quite as ‘packed’ as Neil makes out. After all, the armed actions of the Cameronians had forced the most Right wing element to flee to the Highlands. Furthermore, the Convention deliberated under the supervision of the ‘Watching Committee’ . The Cameronians were also actively discussing moving beyond their ‘red guards’  to creating a ‘Red Army’!

vi) The Cameronians – the ‘Red Army’ of 1690

The new

“King William wasn’t happy with developments in Scotland. His support from large merchants and landed interests would evaporate, if there was a return to rule by the lower orders. {1649 was etched into the minds of every aristocrat.} However, for the moment he needed the Cameronians to fend off the Jacobite threat in the Highlands of Scotland. He tried to absorb the Cameronians into the regular army, under the king’s officers. This they refused to accept. Already, at the Sanquhar General Meeting of January 24th 1689, they had decided to raise a Cameronian army, under their own officers. It was disbanded after the defeat of the coup d’etat. However, after further debate at the Douglas General Meeting on April 29th, it was agreed to form a Cameronian regiment, under the command of William Cleland and Lord Angus” (103).

Cleland was a brave young man who…had fought with the godly at Drumclog and Bothwell Brig (104). The youthful Angus was appointed by the Provisional Government in Edinburgh to try to coopt this development. {Despite being a committed Covenanter} the decision caused some dissension amongst the Cameronians {at the next General Meeting because of his aristocratic background.}

“Meanwhile Claverhouse had raised a Jacobite force of 2,000 Highland clansmen. They smashed William’s regular army of 4,000 at Killiekrankie, although Claverhouse himself was killed. All that now lay between these clansmen, now increased to 5,000 men, eager for booty and a gateway to the Lowlands and capital was a force of 1,200 Cameronians, under the command of William Cleland. The Cameronians manned the walls of Dunkeld cathedral” (105).

“The two extremes of Scottish politics confronted one another at Dunkeld – they fought for hedges, ditches, walls, houses, roofs and rooms. It was a savage battle because it was an ideological battle, a classically bitter and vicious civil war in miniature {Cleland received bullets in the head and the liver during the Highlanders’ first assault. But their second assault was turned by the Cameronian pikemen.} Cleland died, but his men held Dunkeld, and the Jacobite force retired, dispersed and ceased to exist” (106).

“The Cameronians had stopped this immediate counter-revolutionary threat. That they were able to do this was largely due to democratic organisation combined with revolutionary fervour. The same combination allowed the Red Guards to be victorious over the forces of reaction in Russia in 1917. However there never was an ‘October’  for the Cameronians. The class of ‘bonnet lairds’ , tenant farmers and artisans wasn’t cohesive enough to push forwards any further. They were increasingly pushed aside by another class of commercial landlords and larger merchants” (107).

I am sure that Neil would agree with this last sentence and indeed a well-researched section of Neil’s book is devoted to examining the balance of class forces in the lead up to the Act of Union in 1707 (108).

vii) King William is forced to bow to the revolution from below

However, the Cameronians and their legacy didn’t just fade away. They had made such an impact on Scotland through their revolution from below, that the Scottish and later post-Union British state, as well as the commercial landlords, had to develop a political strategy and take punitive measures to eliminate their impact – not least on the constitution of the post-Revolution Scottish state itself. Even a historian as unsympathetic to the Cameronians as Rosalind Mitchison recognises the very different position of the post-Revolution Scottish and English states.

“The Scottish Revolution Settlements… the ‘Claim of Rights’ and the ‘Article of Grievances’  both go far beyond the cautious law defining the English ‘Bill of Rights'” (109).

“For the first time since 1640-51, the Scottish Parliament had become a significant political arena. It was no longer controlled by the king, through his appointed administrative committee…The 1689 Revolution Convention, held under the watchful eye of the United Societies-controlled ‘Watching Committee’made sure that {this Crown committee} was abolished” (110).

“This William would have preferred to retain…The simple truth is that William didn’t want to have to give up any royal powers…He and his supporters argued that however bad past kings had been, William was good and trustworthy, and would not abuse his powers. The view of the Convention was that any king with the power to oppress was always likely to become an oppressor…Only after a year of political manoeuvring was William forced to admit defeat in May 1690…The result was that the Scottish parliament…was free to develop policies and to decide on issues. It was free to take initiatives in diplomacy and commerce” (111).

Of course, the principal weakness of the new Parliament was the incredibly narrow franchise (far more limited even than England). This meant that only a handful of people from newer social forces were represented, like Fletcher of Saltoun (112). The main revolutionary forces lay outside. Nevertheless, as a result of the changes brought about by the Scottish Revolution, a new, if very much minority, voice was heard in the Scottish Parliament for the first time. This Parliament took a strong interest in the economic development and modernisation of Scotland.

6. The Ruling Class Organises Its ‘Counter-revolution Within The Revolution’

i) The Whig counter-revolution within the revolution’ hits back

“The history of William and Anne’s administrations was partly directed at eliminating this radical difference between Scotland and England. The 1707 Act of Union became central to this legacy” (113).

Indeed it needed the Union before the final political act could be passed to abolish the last radical measure bequeathed by the Revolution Settlement in Scotland. The Patronage Act passed by the British Parliament in 1712 allowed the landowners to appoint local ministers in direct contravention of the Revolution Settlement.

Thus, before Neil’s British ‘revolution form above’ could really take off, the Scottish ‘revolution from below’ had to be dealt with by the ‘counterrevolution within the revolution’. William’s administration, far from taking desive action against the Jacobites, constantly tried to woo them over. Thus many historians misunderstand the significance of the Glencoe Massacre in 1692.

“Ironically {this} took place within a generally conciliatory policy towards the Jacobite Highland leaders. After their defeat at Dunkeld, an attempt was first made to buy their loyalty (114). However, with the Williamite Succession still being fiercely contested on the continent, the Jacobite chieftains hedged their bets. William offered a pardon to all rebels if they took an oath of allegiance. This time it was accompanied by threatening those who do not with the utmost extremity of the law. There was no attempt to break the feudal privileges the {greater} chiefs still enjoyed. William could not contemplate revolutionary methods {even from above} against landowners {since he was in a military alliance with many}, but instead tried to coerce them indirectly, by staging a carefully managed event. Hence William’s Secretary of State,… Lord Stair, was selective in his choice of victims” (115).

He made sure not to target the great Macdonald clans of Keppoch and Glengarry (116). He chose the Glencoe Macdonalds, who

“had few, if any friends, but a long history of robbing, burning, murder and rebellion… {As a consequence} the Macdonalds were slaughtered not by a rival clan but by regular soldiers, servants of the state, in the king’s uniform, on the instructions of the king’s secretary, supported by the signature of the king himself” (117).

Amazingly, the new and invigorated Scottish Parliament, filled mainly with Lowland Presbyterian nobles and lairds, with normally minimal sympathy for Jacobite Highlanders (especially the minor clans) condemned this move. They could feel the threat of royal power once more.

Once the Union was established in 1707, a further attempt was made to decrease the political divisions amongst the large landowners. The Toleration Act was passed in 1712 (118). This was ostensibly an attempt to win over the Episcopalian clergy. In reality it was an attempt to further cement the class interests of the landed oligarchy, by healing the divide between Presbyterian and Episcopalian landlords (119). Quite clearly, what was happening here, was assimilation to the English model with its directly state-run Anglican Church. This gave landowning families considerable local power. Here we have reaction being imported from south of the border, certainly not revolution, even ‘from above’.

Moreover, as well as rolling back the constitutional impact of the 1689-91 ‘revolution from below’ , direct attacks were made on the independence of the Cameronians.

“The main body of the Cameronians… became involved in helping fight William’s wars on the continent against Louis XIV. The independentally officered Cameronian regiment suffered heavily at the battles of Namur and Steinkirk in 1692, where the regiment was all but annihilated. Alexander Shield’s, the regiment’s minister, was one of the few survivors. Despite the military setbacks, William must have been secretly pleased at the weakening of this potential challenge” (120).

After its losses on the Continent the Cameronian regiment was reconstituted as a more regular section of the British Army. Here,

“by a bitter twist of history, they were to act on behalf of state reaction, suppressing a Highland regiment’s mutiny in Edinburgh in 1778, just as the ‘Highland Host’ had suppressed the Covenanters… a century earlier. Both Cameronian and Highland regiments went on to serve British imperialism’s needs faithfully” (121).

Neil deals very well with the Darien Scheme, an attempt by the now independentally-minded Scottish Parliament to set up a colonial trading base near present-day Panama (122). I agree with Neil that the spectacular collapse (123) of the Darien Scheme very much curtailed the possibilities for independent Scottish mercantile capitalist development, and played an important role in the passing of the Act of Union. Its failure also represented a further attack on the Cameronian legacy. Its minister, the first overseas Church of Scotland missionary, was none other than Alexander Shields. After Namur and Steinkirk his luck ran out. He died on the return voyage from Darien.

ii) The Cameronians begin to fragment in the face of the Whig offensive

Therefore even before 1707, the Cameronian forces were in retreat. The most far-sighted were practical men like William Cleland. They had military experience and prioritised the physical defence of the Revolution, setting aside any theological dogma which might compromise this. To this extent Cleland was the later equivalent of Ker or Strachan of the old Western Association (see section 4.ii). After the success of the ‘red guards’ in overawing the Edinburgh Convention, Cleland and others argued for the formation of a ‘Red Army’ – the first independent Cameronian regiment. This time they had support from a key United Societies minister, Alexander Shields. Their overall strategy was to join the ongoing Revolution as a fully organised, independent force. It was, however, difficult to get the balance right. Shields joined the Church of Scotland, but regretted that he had not made more fuss when accepted.

The remnant of the United Societies was led by Robert Hamilton, whose approach was more sectarian. After his death, the depleted United Societies eventually found a minister, John McMillan, and they became better known as the McMillanites. Their increasing inability to materially effect events, led this section of the Cameronians to adopt classic sect-like behaviour. They issued ever-more grand Declarations. These were pinned up at market crosses, particularly at Sanquhar, the Cameronians’ `Moscow’. However, this was almost the sum of their public activity. Instead they focussed more and more on their own internal activities, trying to organise a Reformed Presbytery and falling out with others and between themselves. As a result of splits to left and right, the apparently less stern Harlites formed in 1692, whilst the even more dogmatic Howdenites formed in 1712. The authorities realised that all these organisations’ ‘barks were were worse than their bites’ and for most of the time they were now ignored.

Not all radical Covenanters had joined the ‘official’ United Societies. The largest group, lying outside their ranks, were the Hebronites or followers of the minister, John Hepburn. The Hebronites took a half-way position between that of the McMillanites and that of the Church of Scotland. To begin with they were more prepared to become involved in public activity.

However, other defectors, from the pre-and post Revolution United Societies, as well as from the Hebronites, joined the Church of Scotland. They later contributed to its ‘Popular Party’  and the new Secession Churches, who opposed the dominant Moderate Party, closely associated with the landlords and larger merchants. The Seceders were to further divide, in the eighteenth century into ‘Old Licht’  and ‘New Licht’ branches, with the former tending to remain religiously and socially conservative whilst the latter tried to engage with wider changes in the outside world. The different conditions existing in Ireland and the American colonies (with net immigration rather than emigration) meant that the Reformed Presbyterians there became more publicly engaged. Their obvious public impact was therefore greater (see section 8.i).

The Cameronian faithful remnant continued, but rather like revolutionary groups in the twentieth century, they kept splitting into bigger numbers of ever smaller sects. They sometimes deserted to really wild sects, leading dual lives or abandoning Calvinism altogether (124). They had difficulties keeping their followers in line.

If the activities of the Cameronians between 1680 and 1692 provide certain parallels with the Russian Revolution; a study of the Cameronian sects would provide some interesting parallels with the twentieth century world of the Trotskyist sects (125). Furthermore, for every loopy dogmatic position adhered to by an eighteenth century Covenanting sect, you could find an equally bizarre one from a twentieth century Trotskyist sect (126).

iii) Left and Right unite and fight! – a Cameronian-Jacobite alliance?

Neil deals much better than I did (127) with a strange episode in Scottish history. This was a proposed alliance between the Cameronians and the Jacobites! The Cameronians had been publicly active in their opposition to the Articles of Union, designed to unite Scotland and England. The McMillanites produced a political tract, Protestation and Testimony of the United Societies of the Witnessing Remnant of the Anti-Popish, Anti-Prelatic, Anti-Sectarian True Presbyterian Church of the Christ in Scotland Against the Sinful Incorporating Unity (128). A new breakaway sect, the Harlites, produced the equally snappily entitled paper, The Smoaking Flax Unquenchable; Where the Union Between the Two Kingdoms is Dissecated, Anatomised, Confuted and Annuled. Also, that Good Form and Fabrick of Civil Government, Intended and Espoused by the True Subjects of the Land, is Illustrated and Held Out! (129)

At the beginning of the eighteenth century the Cameronian sects still had influence. The Hebronites organised a mass protest in Dumfries, burning a copy of the Articles of Union and a list of the Commissioners responsible for the Union negotiations. 300 of their armed men formed the core of a demonstration several thousand strong (130). The McMillanites, perhaps shamed by the Hebronites, later formed an armed group and rode into Sanquhar to pin up their Declaration on the market cross. The local MP was in the pocket of the pro-Union Marquis of Queensferry.

Demonstrations in Edinburgh and Glasgow, alerted the authorities to the danger and led to the major concession – the maintenance of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, won under the Revolution Settlement in Scotland in 1690. This broke the ranks of the opposition, but of course, it didn’t satisfy the Cameronians, who remained strongly anti-unionist.

This was the background to the shadowy proposals for a Cameronian-Jacobite alliance. How much substance it had, and to what degree state agents were acting as provocateurs, it is difficult to assess. What is more than likely is that any such dealings were confined to a handful of Cameronian leaders, rather than openly debated at United Society meetings. It would have been very hard to persuade the Cameronian rank and file to unite with the Popish and Prelatical Jacobites! Neil points out the inherent problems with establishing such an alliance. It would have been like the Bolsheviks siding with Kornilov against Kerensky in September 1917 (131).

However there are periods in the history of later revolutions, where difficult political situations have led to similar proposals. Neil’s example of Bolshevik ‘purity’ in this regard blinds him to some of their more dubious machinations even as early as 1919. One example of this was the flirtation of the Russian Bolsheviks with the German Right and military officers. Karl Radek, in particular, was involved in some very shady dealings (132). However, these were also kept hidden from the Bolshevik rank and file.

The Left-Right, Cameronian-Jacobite, anti-Union alliance never materialised. Interestingly, the one group that retrospectively supports such an alliance today is the SRSM. Donald has written,

“At one point the Jacobites and Covenanters almost united anent the so-called Union. That is worth striving for today” (133).

Well yes, maybe – but only if you ditch all the royalist Jacobite claptrap and, of course, the religious sectarianism of the Covenanters. Leave the ‘ultra-nationalist’ and militarist Siol nan Gaidheal to parade with its claymores, sgean dhus and targes and the Loyal Orange Order, to march with its lambeg drums, sashes and bowlers.

iv) The ‘national’ and ‘international’ dimensions of the Covenanters and Jacobites

However, there was little basis for such an alliance in 1707 precisely because the class, religious and political differences were irreconcilable on both sides. It must be remembered that for many there was no real distinction between the religious and the political. Political demands were often expressed in religious terms. It wouldn’t be until the American Revolution from 1776 that the majority of revolutionaries would use mainly secular language. In 1707 both Cameronians and Jacobites might have been largely Scottish phenomena, but the visions they had for Scotland were very different.

Furthermore, the most influential leaders on both sides didn’t put national considerations first. The Cameronians saw themselves as part of an international Calvinist order, in alliance with other Calvinists in Holland, England and Ireland, as well as France, Hungary, Piedmont and probably Switzerland. Their most consistent international political aim was to bring back the Presbyterian Solemn League and Covenant with England and Ireland. Likewise the Jacobite Pretenders’ first aim was to regain the Crown of the United Kingdoms. To do this they were prepared to ally with absolutist France, other continental powers and the Papacy if necessary.

If you look at the Scottish political institutions which existed in 1707, then you can easily see why modern-style nationalism didn’t exist. The only national institution at the Jacobites’ disposal was the kingship itself, albeit shared amongst two other kingdoms. This is why ‘national’  awareness had to be a very top-down affair for the Jacobites, with no popular democratic component. A ‘divine right’ king called upon his grand feudal lords, who in turn called on a hierarchical chain of feudal subordinates for their support. Feudal power and obligation gave this substance, not popular national identification. At the base, especially where the smaller clans were concerned, this Scotland was a very nebulous concept. Inter-clan rivalries and even wider Gaeltacht identification (linking the Highlands and Islands of Scotland with what remained of pre-plantation Ulster) could be more meaningful to the clans, as several Stuart and Jacobite generals found to their cost.

For the post-Revolution Settlement Covenanters, there was the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, whose adherents also dominated the reinvigorated Scottish Parliament. The Church of Scotland did of course have its own roots deep into every community, through its elected presbyteries, sessions of kirk elders and ministers, at least outside the Highlands. Here its support, like that of the Jacobites, was largely based on loyalty to powerful leaders, especially in this case, the Marquis of Argyll.

If it had only been a case of the Scottish Parliament versus the Scottish King, then Scottish politics might have been the affair of the tiniest minority, an intra-feudal struggle between the aristocrats and the Crown, such as existed in Poland. However, there was the wider more democratic organisation of the Kirk, which involved members from the ‘lower orders’ . It provided the more popular democratic element to the Covenanting side. These first tentative democratic steps towards widening the social base within the Scottish state led to proto-national consciousness, a term identified by Neil (134). Of course, by modern standards this was a very embryonic and limited democracy. Nevertheless, it was this democratic element which the emerging party of Whigs, representing commercial landlords and large merchants, wanted to rollback and marginalise and which the Jacobites would have tried to eliminate.

But this Scottish framework was also the immediate focus of the radical left wing Covenanters too. Neil calls the Cameronians sectaries because they lay outside the established church. This, however, isn’t how they saw themselves at the time. This was the term of their enemies, particularly the leaders of the state church. The Cameronians believed in an established church too. They believed that they might come to inherit the leadership of this already existing Church of Scotland, in a similar, but more thoroughgoing manner, to the post-Revolution Presbyterian ministers who had taken over from the previous Epicopalian ministers in 1689. Like pre-1938 Trotskyists, they saw themselves as a the leadership-in-waiting of an already existing organisation (the Third International and the Church of Scotland respectively).

v) Neil’s objections are over-determinist

Neil would probably protest and say, How can you claim such a Scottish ‘nation’, even in embryo at this time, when the social and cultural divisions between the Highlands and Lowlands were so stark? (135) Well, first I’m not claiming a fully established Scottish nation, only a Scottish nation in formation – a ‘proto-nation’  perhaps. Now this autonomous development (either inside or outside of the United Kingdom) was far from guaranteed at this stage. Given several wider international factors it could have been reversed. Yet there were now definite ‘proto-national’ forces which had to be contended with by those who wanted to pursue other state and socio-economic paths.

Neither is it essential for there to be one common socio-economic system throughout a state territory for substantial features of a nation to be established athough it certainly helps. Lenin identified several socio-economic systems within a Tsarist Russia he viewed as a nation. The differences between Lowland Edinburgh and even the Outer Hebrides in the seventeenth century were not as wide as those between St. Petersburg and the nomadic communities of Siberia in the early twentieth century. Furthermore, despite the very wide economic, cultural and political differences between Edinburgh and Glencoe in the 1690’s, the Scottish Parliament could still show some solidarity with the plight of the poor Macdonald’s at the hands of the British king and his Scottish agents. Whilst Neil makes a lot of good points highlighting real differences between the Highlands and Lowlands, he exaggerates the necessary political consequences flowing from these (136).

Neil in his eagerness to get to the clash between two ‘world systems’ – British capitalism and constitutional monarchy versus French feudalism and absolutism – overestimates the economic compulsion behind this competition. Certainly, there was a military ‘clash of titans’ throughout the eighteenth century. The dating of the decisive Seven Years War (1756-63), within a decade of the Jacobite defeat, is significant. However, it was only much later, with the triumph of industrial capitalism as a global imperialist system in the nineteenth century, that capitalists had to fully bow to the discipline of the world, rather than more local markets. Extensive self-contained economic systems could co-exist, with or without trading links. There were more possibilities available in the eighteenth century, both more progressive and more reactionary, than Neil allows for.

There is a tendency in Neil’s work to present an ‘objective’ grand determinist schema – a preordaimed and gradually unfolding fully-fledged industrial capitalism. In this earlier period it was only held back by the dastardly French feudal absolutists and their Jacobite allies. In as far as the representatives of these two forces clash, Neil does allow for real class struggle. He quotes today’s neo-Jacobite Tories, Jeremy Black and Eveline Cruickshanks (137), to emphasise how real the Jacobite/French threat was in 1746. Yet, there were other forces and class combinations at work in England, Scotland and the wider Atlantic periphery too. Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker have opened up our eyes to this world (138).

Neil highlights aspects of this himself, when he describes how the intervention of ‘the mob’ in the Union debates actually effected the political outcome (139). What is needed is to consistently place class struggles at the centre of our analysis, since it is real people who determine events in the real world, not puppet-like ciphers, acting blindly as representatives of objective economic forces. That is a very Second Internationalist, orthodox Marxist method.

vi) The Cameronians go down fighting

Now, whilst I have already stated that the Cameronians’ ‘October 1917’  never came, unlike Neil, I have emphasised the real class struggles in which they were eventually marginalised, rather than the mere playing out of ‘objective’ material forces. Certainly, I agree with Neil that the balance of class forces has to be assessed. However, I also notice that this is exactly what the ‘Whigs’ were doing too. They had found the balance wanting and decided to take measures to make them more favourable to their plans. They couldn’t launch their ‘revolution from above’ until they had first destroyed the ‘revolution from below’.

Even beyond 1707, after the Cameronians had been unsuccessful in their opposition to the Union, they could still have a considerable impact on events. The next attempt at full feudal Jacobite restoration came with the Earl of Mar’s Rising in 1715. William McDowell (140) has outlined the crucial role the people of Dumfries played in defeating this rising. Amongst these people would have been many lapsed members of the United Societies, former Cameronian sympathisers, as well as the independent armed force of 300 Hebronite Cameronians, actually present. Dumfries was threatened by the Jacobite forces under Viscount Kenmure and the Earl of Nithsdale. They led a mixed force which included Highland clansmen.

A local militia was armed and drilled, whilst extensive fortifications were made to prevent the strategic city’s capture by the Jacobites. They were encamped nearby at Lochmaben . McDowell explains that,

“Once possessed of Dumfries, the Jacobites would readily have obtained reinforcements and supplies by sea from France and Ireland; the gentlemen in the district who sympathised with them would have been encouraged to join their ranks; and the first great steps in a promising campaign would have been made. But the unexpected opposition given by the burgh altered the whole character of the rebel movement and by enforcing the separation of its promoters {the northern English Earl of Derwentwater and the Scottish Earl of Mar}, contributed materially to its failure.” (141)

The armed stand-off between Jacobite and Covenanter at Dumfries in 1715 was not of the same heroic stature as the ferocious battle between the Jacobites and Cameronians at Dunkeld in 1689. Nevertheless, the radical Covenanters, unable any more to initiate revolution from below, were still able to play a key part in preventing ‘White counter-revolution’.

Of course, the Cameronians received no thanks for this – quite the opposite. The Cameronian heartlands were to be one of the first areas to experience Improvement. The first Clearances took place, not in the Highlands, but in Galloway. The local landlords had become increasingly confident as a result of the growing marginalisation of the Cameronians. Their position had also been reinforced by the Act of Union, particularly the power of patronage.

“They now felt confident enough to finally break the power of the small tenant farmers. They introduced the first enclosures in Scotland. to enlarge the stock farms to profit from the thriving cattle trade with England(142).

“However, this did provoke a last ditch resistance from the Galloway Levellers. A Cameronian minister pinned up their grievances on the door of Borgue Church, near Kirkudbright. The ministers of the Church of Scotland were now firmly under aristocratic control. For a few months in 1724 {the Levellers} resolutely broke down enclosures and ignored the shocked denunciations of ministers who were now serving God and Property(143).

They went down to defeat.

All effective Cameronian local power in Scotland was now broken. All that was open to ‘the suffering remnant’  was ‘bear witness’ . Independent political inactivity now went hand in hand with religious quietism and piety (144).

7. The Revolution From Above Leaves The Rulers Isolated

i) The negative impact of revolution from above

One striking feature about both the 1689 and 1715 Jacobite challenges in Scotland, was that they were mainly suppressed using domestic forces. It is true, that Lord Cadogan brought experienced Dutch troops to Scotland in 1715. However, the actions of the people of Dumfries, on one hand, and of Argyll, on the other at the battle of Sheriffmuir, were already enough to force the Jacobite forces, either over the border southwards (and on to defeat at Preston, along with the northern English Jacobites) or retreating northwards in the case of Mar. The people of Dumfries were able to ward off Lord Kenmure’s forces. Argyll’s burgh militias performed quite well as part of his army confronting Mar’s own much larger one at Sheriffmuir in 1715. Fiery ideological conviction had been enough for the Cameronians to deal with the ‘invincible’ highland charge at Dunkeld in 1689. The fact that it was a very different story in 1745 is revealing.

The Whigs’ long ‘revolution form above’ had done little to improve the condition of the majority of the people, even if it had led to much ‘Improvement’  (145). This mainly agricultural ‘Improvement’ had forced many off the land they had customarily worked. ‘Improvement’, like Stalin’s ‘Progress’, didn’t necessarily bring much benefit to the ordinary tenants or peasants.

The long-lived Whig ‘one-party’ state regime served the aristocratic, large commercial landlords and the magnates of the chartered merchant companies. Over time it became even more self-serving and corrupt. Life was grim for the poor. When Bonnie Prince Charlie did arrive in Scotland in 1745 like a bolt from the blue, there was very little to stop him. Few ordinary people felt like lifting a finger to help King George or his Whig backers. Small numbers of very disenchanted colliers from Newcastle and unemployed labourers from Manchester, even joined the Jacobite army. But for the vast majority it was a ‘plague on both your houses’ .

ii) How the Cameronians viewed Culloden

It is instructive to view the attitude of at least some of the Cameronian remnant. By this period they were very much in decline, displaying all the impotence of the smallest twentieth century Trotskyist sects. Their sectarian and bloodthirsty calls for action read much more fiercely than anything they could deliver themselves. However, in their ‘plague on both your houses’ attitude, they probably expressed in one form a much wider feeling of disillusionment in society at large.

The McMillanites (now constitued as the Reformed Presbytery) and the Howdenites both issued Declarations condemning the Houses of Stuart and Hanover. The Howdenites’ Declaration claimed that Bonnie Prince Charles led a

“Rout of people… a promiscuous multitude of ignorant, covetous, pilfering crew… {However, they also attacked} the great vice in Charles, his foolish pity and lenity in sparing those profane, blasphemous (146) Red-coats, that Providence put into his hand, when by putting them to death, this poor land might have been eased of the heavy Burden of these vermin of Hell!!!”

They attacked the pretended Duke of Cumberland {because he had} invaded Scotland with a hellish crew of Red-coats who came in as Vermin in shoals from Flanders and England… {The military broke the Lord’s day} by idleness, gaming and other debaucheries (147).

There is a still more startling feature in this Declaration. The Howdenites had kept alive the memory of the Highland Host; they knew of the highland charge at Dunkeld; and they lifted chunks of their Declaration from the old Cameronian, Alexander Shields. In his Hind Let Loose, Shields had recalled the year long billetting of the Highland Host upon the Western Shires {in 1678}… a host of savages… brought down from the wild Highlands, more terrible than Turk or Tartar! (148) Yet in response to Cumberland’s savagery, the Howdenites neatly reversed this characterisation. The horrid cruelty, barbarity and inhumanity, committed after the Battle of Culloden, upon the wounded innocent {by the Redcoats}… a barbarity scarcely found among the Turks and Tartars (149).

iii) What if the Jacobites had won?

Before their final debacle at Culloden, the Jacobites won an impressive series of engagements using the now seemingly invincible highland charge. Yet, even as Bonnie Prince Charles’ still undefeated army moved away from the cities of the Scottish Lowlands, the inhabitants often quietly tried to re-establish their own control. They sometimes pushed out any remaining Jacobite garrisons too small to offer any opposition. Relatively few left to join the Jacobite army, just as relatively few put in much effort serving as local town guards – especially if it meant fighting!

It is of course mere speculation to try to determine what would have happened, if the Jacobites had confined themselves to Scotland, as Lord George Murray and many Highland chiefs wished. Yet there is strong reason to believe that a Covenanter oppositional force would have re-emerged, just as it did during the Restoration period. The stronger position of the official Presbyterian Church of Scotland could possibly have led to the arrangement of some Edict of Nantes-type toleration agreement with a Catholic King Charles III of Scotland. However, his Episcopalian allies would most likely have wanted a return of the bishops’ rule in the Church of Scotland. Whatever aristocratic compromises were possible with the Moderates, there were now more substantial independent Covenanting forces which would eventually have gone into active opposition. For, as well as the now much depleted Cameronian remnant, there was the growing following in the new Secession Churches. There was also the Popular Party within the Church of Scotland. These separate Churches and the internal opposition had developed in response to state-backed, aristocratic patronage in the Church of Scotland.

Furthermore, these Covenanter forces would have found allies amongst the Dissenters in England. Much of their prior opposition to ‘Sectaries’ had largely gone, since the majority now conceded they were in ‘separated churches’ themselves. There was already more contact between the Dissenters and Scottish Presbyterians, partly as a result of the Union.

Therefore, now that the Union was in existence, the issue couldn’t be decided in Scotland alone. Lord George Murray was wrong and Bonnie Prince Charlie was right. It was necessary to ‘take out’ the Hanoverian centre of power in London. This, of course, wouldn’t have meant the end of British opposition to the Jacobites – far from it. The old revolutionary Independent tradition would have revived in England too, probably to a greater extent than that of the revolutionary Covenanters in Scotland (not least because they would have adopted an English patriotic, anti-Scottish politics!)

No, Charles’ only solution in the face of such potential opposition, both in Scotland and particularly England, was to rush to the Channel ports, as quickly as possible. Then these could be used as points of entrance for an army made up of regiments from Louis XV’s French army, probably supported by Irish Jacobite exiles. Holding Scottish ports only, would not have allowed the French to ship over a full army, only very small forces and military supplies. This was because the British navy based in England already had decisive control of the seas.

But Charles’ dash for London ‘died a death’ at Derby. After that it was all retreat leading to eventual defeat at Culloden in 1746.

iv) The British revolution from above and parallels with Stalin

Then British state vengeance commenced.

“It began immediately with the extermination of the wounded who still lay on the field {of Culloden}. It was continued by the harsh imposition of martial law, the shooting and hanging of fugitives, the driving of stock, the burning of house and cottage…. the prisoners were tried in England… One hundred and twenty common folk were executed, a third of them deserters from the British army, but nearly seven hundred men, women and children died in gaol or the abominable Tilbury hulks… almost a thousand were sold to American plantations… Five years {later}, kilted fugitives were still being hunted by patrols {and there was a plan} for the massacre of the Macphersons” (150).

“… There are parallels with Stalin’s wartime and post-war activities. He initiated the wholesale transportation of peoples, like the Crimean Tartars (145) and the systematic killing and expulsion of Germans living in the border areas of Czechoslovakia under the control of the Red Army” (151).

The Society for the Propagagation of Christian Knowledge (originally set up by the Church of Scotland in 1709) was now able to implement its policy of ‘civilising the Gael’, by inculcating Presbyterianism and an English-language education. It also produced tracts for distribution. In this respect the SPCK anticipated the methods of the official Communist propaganda which flooded eastern Europe after 1945.

Therefore, it can be seen that,

“Both the Whigs and Stalinists resorted to… brute repression, including elements of ‘ethnic cleansing’ , combined with ‘revolution form above’. Stalin virtually eliminated private financial, industrial and large-scale agricultural capital to undermine the traditional bourgeoisie in his newly conquered territories. Similarly… more than half a century after the Whigs came to power, feudalism was finally uprooted” (152)

in Scotland.

“The Tenures Abolition Act destroyed the bond of military service between chief and clansman, and the Heritable Jurisdictions Act took away from their chiefs, their virtually sovereign power over their tenants, which had given them power of ‘pit and gallows’ over their people” (153).

“The long delay in introducing these {anti-feudal} measures reveals the essential conservatism of a Whig regime bound to landed magnates. And, just as Stalin tried to create a new industrial order in the occupied eastern Europe, through state planning”, (154)

so the

“estates of Jacobite chiefs were forfeited to the Crown, and placed under the control of Commissioners, who carried out in the Highlands many… improvements… “(155).

“Money was spent on organising surveys and prospecting for oil and minerals, on land reclamation and afforestation; on premiums and bounties for linen and hemp production, and on public works programmes aimed at providing roads, bridges and harbours. Attempts were also made to develop a fishing industry” (156).

Yes, if you can avert your eyes from the simultaneous policy of state repression, all this begins to sound like Progress. And maybe the Vogels of the Left (see section 5.ii) will say, Just look at the material gains. Through increased productivity and wealth creation, the impoverished Highlanders were at least being offered the prospect of improved lives and security. And then in 1792 came the ‘Year of the Sheep’; the Clearances had begun!

v) A ruling class or a socialist definition of progress

Who exactly had benefitted by ‘~Improvement’? In 1784 the confiscated Jacobite estates were returned back to their previous owning families. Building on the earlier Acts of Toleration and Patronage, which tried to bring Whig and Tory landlords together, the way was now open to bring in the leading Jacobite families too. They of course now also gained from all the state-sponsored ‘Improvement’. Their tenants were just about to find out that Jacobite, Tory and Whig landlords were all the same when it came to turfing them off their customary landholdings. Progress must always be measured by its contemporary contribution to human welfare and emancipation, not by the number of acres enclosed, bushels of wheat grown, or by the tonnes of coal and steel produced. Today we live in a world where the accumulated wealth has been created by some of the most brutal means imaginable. This process continues under global corporate imperialism devastating individuals, communities and environments alike.

This means two things. First we, as the heirs of the disinherited who created this wealth, have every right to reclaim it so that we can begin to build a society which emancipates and liberates all; where the freedom of each is the condition for the freedom of all. Secondly, just as the Cameronians and the Highland clans found out, this wealth isn’t going to be given back to us. Indeed today the greedy corporations want to take away even more of the wealth we create! The Cameronians and the Highland clans had to struggle, just as we have to struggle. Their fight was not some misguided, backward-looking affair, holding back future progress. It was the cry of humanity, in a world where ‘salvation’, ‘improvement’  or ‘progress’ was nearly always promoted separately from the needs of the people. Resistance to this inhumanity should be part of our socialist tradition today.

8. The Continued Relevance Of The Cameronian Tradition

i) The internationalist contribution of the Cameronians

However, there is another claim to be made for the radical left-wing Covenanting tradition. If the last impotent cries in the wilderness, were the only legacy that the Cameronians left us, then they could be written off as a historical deadend. Yet for all those human beings who did end up passively ‘bearing witness’ or in some of the wilder sects, others turned their hand to addressing new problems in new circumstances (157).

Cameronians in the American colonies formed their own Reformed Presbyterian Church. They were the first American Church to refuse to admit any slave-owner to their membership (158). When the United States was eventually formed, the same American Cameronians promptly dissociated from the American government when they saw slavery established by law! (159). Now slaves in early America weren’t all black as the radical Covenanters knew from personal experience, some having been transported there as convicts. However, by the eighteenth century identifying with the slaves also meant support for Black Americans.

The Cameronians also advanced the cause of American political freedom.

“A section of the Covenanters, led by the Rev. Alexander Craighead in the first half of the eighteenth century… declar{ed) not only their religious convictions, but also their rights to civil independence… {and} indeed made a public demand for national independence from Great Britain. They circulated this daring document; it breathed the spirit of the early Scottish Covenanting manifestoes” (160).

The leading role of Presbyterians in Ulster’s United Irishmen in the 1790s is widely appreciated (except by Ulster Presbyterians today!). As a result of the growing secularisation of the Republic of Ireland, the old myth of the 1798 Rising being a Catholic nationalist revolt has been set aside. Visit the excellent 1798 Memorial Museum in Enniscorthy (in the highly contested area which formed the short-lived Wexford Republic) and the new thinking is embodied in display tiles at the entrance. The three contributory forces to the 1798 Risings are presented as French Jacobinism, Catholic Defenderism (a largely peasant defensive organisation) and New Light (New Licht) Presbyterianism.

The emphasis on the New Lights’ willingness to participate in a revolutionary movement is well-made, in comparison to the more socially conservative Old Lights. However, what is missed out of this list of traditions which merged to form the United Irishmen, is one still orthodox group – the Irish Cameronians.

“The Reformed Presbyterians were a very marginal Church, but they had an importance that went beyond their numbers… And as a divsion of Presbyterianism with the most impressive record of refusing to recognise the legitimacy of secular government they were about to acquire a new impetus in the heady days of the… United Irishmen (161). The Reformed Presbyterian minister, John Paul (162)… more than anybody in that period embodies the United Irish spirit” (163).

There is a significant difference between those non-aristocratic ‘Jacobites’  who joined the United Irishmen and the United Scotsmen compared to the Covenanters who also joined up. The latter discussed and debated the issue within their official organisations. No such discussions took places amongst the remaining aristocratic centres of official Jacobitism – the Courts, palaces and mansions of Europe.

ii) The split between the progressive secularised ‘Covenanters’ and the conservative and reactionary religious ‘Covenanters’

As a result of debates about the course of the post-1789 Revolution, and of the huge pressures exerted in the world’s first international revolutionary wave, the Covenanting tradition split into separate religious and secular components . The conservative wing remained firmly entrenched in its theological shell. By far the majority of its ministers joined with that long succession of clergy who, since 1690, had become a bulwark of the state. This is the wing that produced the socially conservative Free Church tradition in the early nineteenth century; which itself later left behind the even more conservative Free Presbyterians. Some of these people could hold to certain aspects of liberal politics mainly because of their intense hatred of landlords. However, in Northern Ireland and Glasgow, a much more reactionary strand of religio-political Presbyterianism flourished (represented today by Paisley’s DUP and the Loyalist paramilitaries). This absorbed many of the wider Right wing elements, supplementing an old religious sectarianism with a newer racism.

These last ditch defenders of the Union represent the most dangerous Right wing force in UK politics, with many more deaths on their hands than the National Front or BNP, which constantly seek their alliance. When socialists, liberals or Catholics think about the Covenanting tradition today, this is what they understand and fear. Yet monarchist unionism is the political antithesis of what the radical left-wing Covenanters struggled for – a republican confederation.

So what happened to the progressive aspect of the Covenanting tradition in Scotland? John Brims, in an excellent article (164), has shown how both the Scottish Friends of the People and the United Scotsmen were massively influenced by Covenanting ideas. They became absorbed in the new Radical secular politics. Here it isn’t hard to see the old revolutionary kernel of the Covenanting tradition dressed in a new secular form.

Even the organisational form adopted by the early Radicals and trade unions is modelled on the democracy bequeathed by the original Cameronians. They had formed United Societies organised in wider Correspondences. The very language of the new democratic and working class organisations comes directly from these earlier United Societies. A national Committee of Scottish Union Societies had emerged during the 1812 {Glasgow weavers’) strike. The word ‘society’ has a long pedigree in Scottish political history. Presbyterian extremists in the seventeenth century frequently being referred to as ‘society men’ (165). It would be interesting to find out the origins of the name of the London Corresponding Society, the third organisation, along with the United Irishmen and the United Scotsmen in the revolutionary internationalism from below alliance of the 1790’s. Its first Secretary was Thomas Hardy, a cobbler, who originally hailed from Scotland.

As a new Scottish plebian movement began to develop, it abandoned the backward aspects of the Covenanting tradition.

“Many of them, particularly around Paisley were lyric poets and they had a joyous enthusiasm for the arts and sciences… support {for the United Scotsmen} came from the weavers, extraordinary men with firm radical Calvinistic convictions” (166).

George Mealmaker, who later was one of the United Scotsmen organisers of the 1797 Anti-Militia Rising, was a Dundee delegate to the British Convention in 1793, where he delivered a long speech in the manner of a tent-sermon.

Thomas Muir was the leading Scottish revolutionary of his day, forced to live in exile in France (167). He presented a memorial to the French Directory to try and enlist aid for a joint United Scotsmen/United Irishmen Rising in 1797. In it he explained how the presbyterian party had always turned tyrants pale and sometimes hurled them from the throne to the scaffold (168). It was Muir, who also bitterly attacked those historians in the pay of the English court who portrayed the noble efforts of the covenanters as nothing more than the furious expression of fanaticism (169). When it came to politics, rather than culture, the leading revolutionaries clearly drew on the radical Covenenting tradition.

This was also the political tradition the popular movement drew its inspiration from. In 1815 a mass demonstration of tailors, masons and weavers’ trade union benefit societies… celebrate{d} the victory gained by the Covenanters over the King’s {Charles II} troops at Drumclog, on 13 June 1679… they marched to the place where the Covenanters had defeated Claverhouse (170).

However, the broader cultural movement of the infant working class in Scotland was now absorbing elements from many cultures, including the sub-Jacobite ‘outlaw’ tradition portrayed in song and ballads. The new plebian movement included Highland Gaels. There were several thousand Gaelic speakers in Scottish lowland cities and towns by the end of the eighteenth century (171). One of these, Angus Cameron, a Lochaber man, became a wright in Glasgow for a time. He later helped to raise 16,000 men in the Strathtay Rising to oppose the Militia Act in 1797 (172). It was people like Cameron who would have brought the sub-Jacobite oral culture to Scottish cities. Robert Burns is the towering poet of this period with a widely recognised international reputation. His work and thinking reflects these hybrid traditions (173).

Yet it was Burns, inspired by an account of the 1685 Covenanter martyrs (174), who wrote the following lines probably in 1794 (175).

“The Solemn League and Covenant
Now brings a smile, now brings a tear
But sacred Freedom, too, was theirs
If thou’rt a slave, indulge thy sneer.”

Today, the British government employs its own Scottish Establishment historians who indulge their own sneers at the Cameronian tradition. Neil, who is a superb socialist historian, should not be afraid to break the threads tying him to a left unionist tradition. These make you a ‘slave’ to the old British left orthodoxies, which are just a new form of British Whig history. The SRSM should see that their left nationalist concern to exclude English influences from the SSP is a pretty parochial and divisive political ambition. The SSP is in a unique position to show the way forward in England because of our much greater political and cultural impact in Scotland. English socialists want to listen to us Donald – so dinnae be feart!

Internationalism from below both maintains our independence whilst allowing us to join with others, That Man to Man, the warld o’er shall brithers be for a’ that. (176) These are the words Colin Fox, SSP MSP (177), sang when he protested against the oath of allegiance to the Crown in the Scottish Parliament. And Rosie Kane, SSP MSP, after she made her own eye-catching protest, would probably have added, Aye, and sisters too!

Allan Armstrong

Beyond Broadswords And Bayonets References

  • (1) see SSV 140.
  • (2) see SSV 141.
  • (3) see SSV 142.
  • (4) L. Colley – Britons: Forging the Nation – 1710-1837.
  • (5) Although one-time trotskyist George Kerevan’s latest anti-socialist incarnation as associate editor for the ultra-unionist Scotsman suggests yet another political metamorphosis is in the offing!
  • (6) For an account of the Left’s changes over this policy, see All Hail, the Scottish Workers’ Republic and the Struggle for a Communist World – a Contribution to the debate on Scotland in the Scottish Socialist Alliance (predecessor to the SSP). (Available from Allan Armstrong)
  • (7) Militant (a section of the Trotskyist CWI) was seen as a particularly unionist organisation, especially for its Loyalist-apologising stance on Northern Ireland. However, they were one of the first Trotskyist organisations to adopt a more liberal unionist mode on Scottish Devolution in the 1970’s. Later, as part of their political preparations for forming the Scottish Socialist Alliance they adopted the position of an independent socialist Scotland.
  • (8) A quirky exception is Union Jack Conrad, one of several noms-de-plum of the principal writer in the Weekly Worker. He believes Scots to be purely an ethnic minority within a larger British nation. He also supports the democratic rights of the British Irish. Unfortunately they wouldn’t recognise themselves under that name. For they are, of course, better known to themselves and most others as the Ulster loyalists. They are constantly asserting their democratic rights from Drumcree to the Ardoyne and the Short Strand!
  • (9) The SSP Platform which upholds left nationalism is the SRSM.
  • (10) N. Davidson 2 The Origins of Scottish Nationhood (op. cit) p.31. I am now persuaded of the value of this term after initially criticising it my review of this book. (Available from Allan Armstrong)
  • (11)Peter Beresford Ellis is a leading advocate of this view from a left nationalist viewpoint. See his book, Celt and Saxon.
  • (12) This is Gaelic for bighead which shows either amazing arrogance on the family’s part or maybe his fellow chieftains thought he entertained ambitions way above his station!
  • (13) T. Johnston, History of the Working Classes in Scotland, p.21
  • (14) D. Ross, Scotland, History of A Nation, p.108
  • (15) N. Davidson 1, Discovering the Scottish Revolution, p. 293-4.
  • (16) A. Grant, Independence and Nationhood – Scotland 1306 – 1469, p. 201.
  • (17) J. Prebble, Lion in the North, p.131. John Prebble is a popular English historian who has done far more to make us aware of neglected aspects of Scotland’s history, than many Scottish Establishment historians. James Hunter is good on the role of these people in his Preface to the New Edition of his excellent The Making of the Crofting Community.
  • (18) J. Macleod, Highlanders, p.126. John Macleod, Scottish journalist, originally hailing from Harris, is a good representative of the socially and religiously conservative trend in Covenanting history. This separated out from the progressive trend in the 1790s in response to the French Revolution ( see 8.ii). John Macleod, last proudly proclaimed his virginity, aged 30! The long term future of the Free Presbyterian Church is far from assured!
  • (19) W. C. Mackenzie, The Highlands and Isles of Scotland – A Historical Survey, p.104
  • (20) I can no longer find the original quote, but the incident is dealt with in J. Prebble (op. cit.) p.184.
  • (21) Sir John Cope was the hapless Hanoverian general whose poorly trained troops were routed at Prestonpans by the Jacobites in 1745. He became the subject of a humorous and scathing attack in a Jacobite song, Hey Johnnie Cope.
  • (22) Cumberland, or more properly William Augustus, the Duke of Cumberland, was the son of King George II and a young general (he was his father’s favourite!). It was his hardened and specially trained troops who defeated the Jacobites at Culloden in 1746. He earned the nickname The Butcher after the treatment meted out to the defeated Jacobite footsoldiers. However, in no way does the mild-mannered Neil deserve this particular epithet!
  • (23) Neil Davidson 1, op.cit, see section Highland and Lowland, p. 52-70, particularly p. 55.
  • (24) Although I suspect that Neil’s real eighteenth century Aberdeenshire Davidson ancestors would more likely have been Jacobites, but then my own Armstrong forebears were a bunch of Borders cattle thieves!
  • (25) N.Davidson 1 (op, cit) see particularly p.274
  • (26) K. Williamson’s letter in SSV no. 141
  • (27) D. Anderson’s letter in SSV no. 141.
  • (28) My own view of the nature of clan society has been published in The Media Education Journal, no. 17, Winter 1994, Doing Porridge: Unlocking Our View of the Scottish Clans.
  • (29) Rob Roy lived at the interface between the declining clan and feudal orders and a new commercial capitalism. He became a cattle dealer and drover. The film starring Liam Neeson highlights Rob Roy’s difficulties dealing with the new amoral cash nexus from his position of upholding traditional values.
  • (30) W.H. Murray, Rob Roy Macgregor – his life and times, p. 189.
  • (31) G.D.H. Cole and R. Postgate, The Common People, p. 2.
  • (32) Strictly speaking the Macpherson in the song can not be claimed as a Jacobite. He was the son of a local aristocrat and a gypsy woman and something of a Robin Hood-type character. He was hanged in Banff in 1700. He would probably have fallen foul of whatever regime was in power. However, the song was assimilated into the sub-Jacobite outlaw culture. This sub-Jacobite outlaw culture was also found amongst the eighteenth century Reparees in Ireland.
  • (33) see R. H. MacLeod, Flora MacDonald – The Jacobite Heroine in Scotland and North America for more information on this tragic woman.
  • (34) W. Donaldson, The Jacobite Song – Political Myth and National Identity, p. 94.
  • (35) The descendents of the Jacobites who left Ireland with Patrick Sarsfield, after the defeat of James II/VII in 1691.
  • (36) J. Connolly, Labour in Irish History in Collected Works, p. 37. Unfortunately there was no equivalent work from this period on Scotland from a marxist perspective. John Maclean at this point was still firmly trapped in a left unionist, and as it turned out, a thoroughly social chauvinist and imperialist organisation, the SDF. It was only later in life, after a prolonged political struggle against the leadership of its successor, the BSP, that Maclean came to a much clearer internationalism from below perspective. Initially he was influenced by the Celtic Communist history presented by the nationalist, Ruaraidh Erskine of Marr. Marr supported the Jacobite historical tradition and his flirtation with contemporary communism was short-lived. He moved to the Right and joined the Jacobite side in the cultural struggle which took place during the early days of the Scottish Literary Renaissance in the 1920’s and ’30’s (see 3.v).
  • (37) See D. Anderson’s letter (op. cit).
  • (38) For more information on this interesting character read R. D. Thornton, William Maxwell to Robert Burns.
  • (39) Try http://members.rogers.com/jacobites  (link dead at last check)
  • (40) The Cameronians form an almost textbook case study of a revolutionary group which shows real vitality in a revolutionary situation and then produces all the sectarian symptoms of decline after being marginalised in a counter revolution from above. There is a lot of the Bolshevik and the Trotskyist represented in the two main periods of Cameronian history. This should become apparent later in this article.
  • (41) F. Campbell,  The Dissenting Voice – Protestant Democracy in Ulster from Plantation to Partition, p. 92                     
  • (42) W, Thompson, The Kirk and the Cameronians in Rebels and their Causes – Essays in honour of A.L. Morton, edited by M. Cornforth, p. 94.
  • (43) This section is called Forerunners and Equivalents in N. Davidson 1 (op. cit.) p.291-4.
  • (44) J. Prebble has, as usual, produced an informative and entertaining book with this title.
  • (45) It is a distinguishing feature of this school of thought that it downplays the Scottish aristocratic, capitalist and wider Right populist forces in the formation and support for a British ruling class. The second biggest demonstration in Glasgow this year, after the magnificent 100,000 strong February 15th anti-war demonstration, was the 20,000 annual Orange Walk on July 5th!
  • (46) Hugh MacDiarmid’s magnificent epic poem, A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle, was written after the defeat of the 1926 General Strike. See The Complete Poems of Hugh Macdairmid, Volume 1, edited by M. Grieve and W. Aitken, p.83-167.
  • (47) His short poem, Little White Rose, M. Grieve and W. Aitken (op. cit.)  p. 461 is also a reference to a Jacobite emblem.
  • (48) This is the name given to the original Lallans-writing bards of the late Middle Ages, particularly William Dunbar.
  • (49) Fionn MacColla’s And the Cock Crew is a powerful novel written on this theme.However, I think the best description of the seemingly life-denying aspect of conservative Calvinism is in Alasdair Maclean’s, Night Falls on Ardnamurchan, p. 198, where he claims the purpose of the Reformation was to eliminate Purgatory by getting it over while we’re still alive!
  • (50) This is particularly the case with the radical Covenanting Whiggamores (see section 4.ii) and the radical left wing Cameronians (see chapter 5).
  • (51) Seceder is the name of the Churches which broke away from the Church of Scotland. In the eighteenth century, they included the Cameronians’ Reformed Presbyterian, the Secession and Relief Churches. The biggest split occurred however in 1843, as a result of a period of Scottish history know as The Disruption. This produced the very influential Free Church, which was as much an urban as rural phenomenon. The overwhelmingly Highland and Islands’ Wee Frees, were formed in 1893.
  • (52) S. Maclean, Dain do Eimhir, edited by C. Whyte. 
  • (53) For a critique of Scottish Watch see A. Armstrong, White Settlers or Jockbrits, edited by Iain Robertson, a Scottish Republican Forum pamphlet (available from Allan Armstrong)
  • (54) Revolution from above is a term I also use in Jacobite or Covenanter – Which Tradition?, (A. Armstrong 1) p. 30, in the Scottish Republican Forum pamphlet of the same name, edited by Mark Stewart. (E-mail Allan Armstrong to arrange for a copy of this.) Neil makes many useful comparisons with nineteenth century Germany, Italy, USA and Japan [see N. Davidson 1 (op.cit) particularly the section on Patterns of Bourgeois Revolution, p. 9-12} I use it specifically to deal with the end-phase of the Neil’s Scottish revolution from above, after the defeat of the Jacobites at Culloden.I draw parallels with Stalin’s top-down forced transformation of eastern Europe after 1945 (see later 7.iv).
  • (55) Wales had already been fully incorporated into England by a number of Acts of Union enacted by Henry VIII in the 1530s.
  • (56) The popular general term for Rightist counter-revolution is White. Is there a connection between this fact and the Jacobites? The Jacobites used both the white rose and white cockade as emblems. However, you can’t make too much of colours, since the Covenanters’ colours were blue, whilst the Levellers’ colours were green, both of which have quite different connotations today. Similarly the Cameronians called forces to the Right of them – the Left, presumably because it was associated with the Latin word sinister.
  • (57) A. Armstrong 1 (op. cit) p. 16, also quoting K. Brown, Kingdom or Province? – Scotland and the Regal Union, 1603 – 1715, p.114.
  • (58) They were turning their back on their previous opposition to and now engaging with King Charles.
  • (59) In modern revolutionary language the accusation would be, Sell out, you traitorous reformist bastards!
  • (60) They were remonstrating with their previous allies, now the Engagers.
  • (61) J Prebble, The Lion in the North, p.257.
  • (62) W. Makey,The Church of the Covenant, 1637-1651.
  • (63) W. Makey (op.cit) p. 81.
  • (64) W. Makey (op.cit) p. 81.
  • (65) W. Makey (op.cit) p. 17.
  • (66) Sectaries was the term of abuse for supporters of the Independent congregationalist position, of which Cromwell was a leading representative. Although, there is little evidence of sectaries in Scotland until the small sect known as the Gibbites appeared. Covenanters, who believed in a universal church with state-backing, saw Independency as a real political challenge.
  • (67) See pamphlet by D. Stevenson, The Covenanters and the Western Association.
  • (68) K.Brown (op. cit.) p. 136.
  • (69) This concept is quite commonly applied by socialists. However there is usually intense disagreement over who started the counter-revolution – Robespierre or the Directory in revolutionary France; Trotsky (at Kronstadt) in 1921, Stalin in 1928 or Kruschev in 1956 in the USSR! I am applying it to Cromwell’s armed actions directed against the Levellers in 1649.
  • (70) For a development of this view see Irish Republicanism – the authentic perspective, p.60-64, by dissident Irish Republican, the late Derry Kelleher.
  • (71) A.Armstrong 1 (op. cit.) p.23  also quoting D. Kelleher, An Open Letter to Ian Paisley.
  • (72) Fairfax has recently been played by the SSP‘s own hearththrob, Dougray Scott, in the film To Kill a King. Fairfax took a leading part in the counter-revolution within the revolution. In particular he turned his back on the anti-feudal revolt led by Illiam Dhone on the Isle of Man and took possession of the island for himself, retaining the old feudal constitution [see A Armstrong (op. cit) p.23.
  • (73) These developments are covered in more detail in A Armstrong 1 (op. cit) p. 23. V.Kiernan is also good on this. Without using the term, counter-revolution within the revolution he shows its impact in Scotland in A Banner With A Strange Device, in Covenant, Charter and Party – Traditions of Revolt and Protest in Modern Scottsh History, p. 39, edited by T. Brotherstone.
  • (74) A. Armstrong 1 (op. cit) p. 25.
  • (75) Many radical Covenanting merchants had bankrupted themselves financing the first Scottish Revolution. The Restoration regime imposed its own supporters on the burgh councils, (e.g. Bonnie Dundee in Dundee). The regime also passed an Act of Entail in 1685 to maintain large aristocratic estates.
  • (76) Several of those who refused became the key cadre of the later radical left-wing Covenanters.
  • (77) A.Armstrong 1 (op.cit) p. 26.
  • (78) A.Armstrong 1 (op.cit) p. 26, also quoting seventeenth century Covenanter, Patrick Walker.
  • (79) A.Armstrong 1 (op.cit) p. 26.
  • (80) J. Halliday, Scotland – A Concse History BC to 1990, p. 88.
  • (81) However, Scott’s Old Mortality (1816) was not seen by everyone as radical enough in its defence of the Covenanters. It produced two more sympathetic novels in response, James Hogg’s The Brownie of Bodsbeck (1817) and John Galt’s Ringin Gilhaizie (1823).
  • (82) The best modern book detailing all the surviving monuments is Standing Witnesses – An Illustrated Guide to the Scottish Covenanters by Thorbjorn Campbell.
  • (83) A.Armstrong 1 (op.cit) p. 27.
  • (84) It was whilst visiting Dunnottar Castle that Lewis Grassic Gibbon apparently got the inspiration to start on Men of the Mearns (see section 3.v)
  • (85) Two other significant names are associated with the Battle of Sedgemoor in England. The first is Scot, Alexander Fletcher of Saltoun, an advanced political thinker for his day. He was to make a reputation for himself in the post-Revolution Scottish Parliament. He was a minor laird from East Lothian. He came over with Monmouth, but due to a fight in which he killed someone, he had to make himself scarce before the battle, probably saving his life in the process. Another person, who was present on the day of the battle and took a leading role on King James’ side was Anglo-Irish, Partick Sarsfield. He later emerged as an Irish Jacobite hero, particularly after his daring raid near Limerick in 1691 during the war of the English Succession. His aristocratic title was Lord Lucan. His distant descendant has, of course, disappeared even more effectively than Alexander Fletcher did before Sedgemoor! James Connolly didn’t show the same appreciation for Sarsfield as the Irish Nationalists of his own day. He poured scorn on those who chose to fight in a European dynastic war. The Irish speaking peasants also seemed to regret any involvement in the war, given the epithet they reserved for James II after he fled to France – Seamas a’ Chaca or James the Shite!
  • (86) Unionists and Nationalists (including their left variants) only recognise the clash between William and James. Hence, the celebration of King Billy by today’s Orange Order. For the Jacobites it is hard to make any hero out of James II, given the ignominious way he fled his throne, and later from Ireland. This is why Bonnie Dundee, or John Graham of Claverhouse and Patrick Sarsfield, Lord Lucan, play a substitute role in the Jacobite tradition.
  • (87) Victor Kiernan’s article The Cameronians: A Problem of Creed and Class in History from Below, p. 53-82, edited by Frederick Krantz, is still a very interesting article. Kiernan’s writings are always interesting, since he wears his orthodox Communism lightly.
  • (88) In contrast, Willie Thompson (then editor of the CPGB‘s Scottish Committee official journal, Scottish Marxist) showed much more obvious constraints, as he tried to shoehorn his analysis into an othodox Communist line. See his Kirk and the Cameronians in Rebels and their Causes – Essays in honour of A.L. Morton, p.93-106.
  • (89) There are two sections of Neil’s book devoted to polemicising against my positions, p. 289-294 and p. 299-300. The whole tenor is good knock-about polemic well within what is acceptable for fraternal debate. However, there is one position Neil attributes to me I don’t hold and that is the possibility of an alliance between the English Levellers and Irish and Scottish clan democracy. I certainly broach the possibility of an alliance between the first two groups, since the Levellers themselves discussed this [see A. Armstrong 1 (op.cit.) p. 21]. However, the political conditions did not exist for an alliance with the Scottish clans, or at least their descendents, until the 1790s. By this time the clans were broken and their members had become the oppressed peasants [see A.Armstrong 1 (op.cit) p. 34. I do however mention a fictionalised account of such a link-up (p.32), The Ballad of Sawney Bain, written by a former International Socialist (predecessor of the SWP) member, Harry Tait.
  • (90) N. Davidson 1 (op, cit) p. 292.
  • (91) N. Davidson 1 (op, cit) p. 289  quoting J. Vogel,  The Tragedy of History, in New Left Review 1/220.
  • (92) This quote is taken from Preface of the new edition of James Hunter’s book, The Making of the Crofting Community, p.8. Here he states that his own book and title took inspiration from E.P. Thompson’s path-breaking, The Making of the English Working Class (Donald please note!)
  • (93) Hector Macpherson has a whole chapter, With the Hillmen, in his book (op. cit. p.58-77)  which deals with the heavy toll The Killing Times took upon the United Societies. However, he also shows that with their strong commitment, they were able to maintain their organisation in the south-west as well as some leaders in the Dutch Republic. If anything he is under-estimating their organisation, because they must also have had secret sympathisers in the cities and ports to maintain contact with those imprisoned and those in exile. It is this aspect of the United Societies organisation which Victor Kiernan seems to overlook in his otherwise interesting treatment. However, if their organisation hadn’t remained strong, then they would not have been able to make the impact they did when their opportunity came in the ‘Glorious Revolution’.
  • (94) H. Macpherson (op. cit.) p. 164 quoting A. Shields, A Hind Let Loose – and no, I don’t know what grassant means either, but I’m sure it is perjorative!
  • (95) There seem to be bluidy awful number of these petty tyrants around, although it’s an indication of the Cameronians’ somewhat formulaic approach to language that a wider number of descriptive adjectives hasn’t come down to us – especially considering the richness of the Scots language in this respect!
  • (96) A. Armstrong 1 (op. cit) p. 27.
  • (97) James II of England and Ireland was still officially King James VII of Scotland – a united Great British state had not been created.
  • (98) A. Armstrong 1 (op. cit) p. 28.
  • (99) N. Davidson 1 (op. cit) p. 218/
  • (100) A. Armstrong 1 (op. cit) p. 28.
  • (101) J.Halliday (op. cit) p. 89.
  • (102) N. Davidson 1 (op. cit) p. 293. Although Neil mentions him in passing, James Thomson Callender deserves more consideration. He is the subject of a chapter in the book by James Young, The Very Bastards of Creation – Scottish International Radicalism, 1707-1995, where this Scottish internationalist Jacobin is claimed for the Jacobite tradition! Any reading of his magnificent, The Political Progress of Britain or an Impartial Account of the Principal Abuses in the Government of this Country from the Revolution of 1688, written in 1792, will show it doesn’t attack the Whig regime from a Jacobite viewpoint. Rather it highlights how those Whigs claiming to be the heirs of the Glorious Revolution had hardly improved the overall situation beyond the sorry mess Charles II and James II had left it in. The pamphlet has a very contemporary feel about it, since it accuses the Hanoverian administration of being, in effect, a permanent war regime. It is also amazingly advanced about the limitations of parliamentary democracy. Callender is probably the first modern advocate of internationalism from below. His pamphlet, which compares to some of Tom Paine’s work, should have been published years ago by the Left in Scotland. It is indicative of the failings of socialists in Scotland that its copyright lies with the American Library of Congress!
  • (103) A. Armstrong 1 (op.cit) p. 28.
  • (104) J. Prebble (op. cit) p. 271-2.
  • (105) A. Armstrong 1 (op.cit) p.28.
  • (106) J. Halliday (op. cit), p.92.
  • (107) A. Armstrong 1 (op.cit) p.29.
  • (108) N. Davidson 1 (op. cit) p. 94-101, see Class and Party in the last Scottish Parliament.
  • (109) R.Mitchison,  From Lordship to Partonage, Scotland 1603-1745, p.117.
  • (110) A. Armstrong 1 (op.cit) p. 31.
  • (111) J. Halliday (op. cit), p. 92.
  • (112) After returning from hiding [see (85) above] this Fletcher of Saltoun re-emerges. He is a very interesting individual. From our viewpoint, however, the most salient fact is that, after his earlier involvement in clandestine revolutionary activity, he turned his back on all that and became a strict constitutionalist. Therefore, as the most articulate opponent of the 1707 Union, he never took his opposition outside Parliament to the mob or to the United Societies.
  • (113) A. Armstrong 1 (op.cit) p. 29.
  • (114) The generally conciliatory role of King William’s government towards the Jacobites at this stage is shown in Paul Hopkin’s book, Glencoe and the End of the Highlands War.
  • (115) A. Armstrong 1 (op.cit) p. 30.
  • (116) J. Prebble (op. cit) p. 275.
  • (117) J. Halliday (op. cit) p.94.
  • (118) This policy of toleration was an aspect of monarchist realpolitik. It was a further development of such measures as the original Edict of Nantes in France, which had granted toleration to Huguenots (before being revoked by Louis XIV in 1685), or of the Indulgences granted by Charles II and James I/VII. Granting privileges to whoever was favoured or feared at a particular time is not to be confused with the more general democratic right of toleration championed mainly by the Independents.
  • (119) A. Armstrong 1 (op.cit) p. 32.
  • (120) A. Armstrong 1 (op.cit) p. 29.
  • (121) A. Armstrong 1 (op.cit) p. 35.
  • (122) N. Davidson 1 (op. cit) p.94-101  see The debacle of Scottish colonialism.
  • (123) One of the commodities that was taken to trade with the Indians of the Panama isthmus was periwigs! If the Company factor responsible for this promotion had been alive today, he would have a good chance of employment on one of Labour’s local enterprise quangoes!
  • (124) The Buchanites appeared in the Ayrshire in the 1780’s. They were led by the charismatic, Elspeth Buchan (born Simpson), from Banff. She left her husband for a renegade Church of Scotland minister, the Rev. Hugh White, from Irvine. According to Robert Burns the Buchanites hold a community of goods and live nearly an idle life… pretend… devotion in barns and woods where they all live and lodge together and hold likewise a community of women, as it is another of their tenets that they can commit no moral sin. They seem to be the free love libertarians of their day! It will come as no surprise that Burns publicly professed his love for one member, Jean Gardener! (A. Penman – The Buchanites in Some More Stewartry Sketches, p. 23-30).
  • (125) My money is on the McMillanites being the equivalents of the Healeyites of the old
    WRP, whilst the Howdenites are those who still uphold Healey after his death and exposure as a sexual abuser! The Hebronites are the equivalent of the Cliffites of the SWP. Where does the Taffeite CWI tradition fit into this? Well, since they early joined and long stayed in the Labour Party, they more resemble those old Covenanters who went into the Church of Scotland, but left later as the Seceder Church. Since then they have further split into Old Licht (CWI – Scotland) and New Licht (ISM) forces!
  • (126) My favourite involves a debate between the aforementioned Healeyites and the Posadists (Argentianian Trotskyists). In the 1950s when official Communist Parties were very publicly pushing for Nuclear Disarmament, some Trotskyists used this to accuse the Stalinists of showing less than revolutionary ardour. The Healeyites defended the USSR‘s right to hold on to its workers’ bomb. The Healeyites hadn’t reckoned with the Poasadists, who accused them of treachery. The Posadists called on the USSR to use its workers’ bomb to launch an attack on the imperialist West!
  • (127) A. Armstrong 1 (op. cit.) p. 30.
  • (128) N.Davidson 1 (op.cit.) p.145. A modern day equivalent might read something along the lines of, The Political Statement of the Provisional Central Committee of the Anti-Reformist, Anti-Stalinist, Anti-Sectarian (of course!) UK Section of the Fourth International Against an Incorporating European Union.
  • (129) N. Davidson 1 (op. cit) p. 337.
  • (130) N. Davidson 1 (op. cit) p. 146.
  • (131) N. Davidson 1 (op. cit) p. 154.
  • (132) See Mikhail Agursky’s quirky but nevertheless interesting book, The Third Rome, National Bolshevism in the USSR, p. 215.
  • (133) D. Anderson, I Was a Cameronian Freemason or I was a Poison Dwarf for the Snow White Queen in Jacobites or Covenanters – Which Tradition? p.48.
  • (134) N,Davidson 2 (op. cit) p. 32.
  • (135) This is a rhetorical question not an actual quote!
  • (136) See section Highland and Lowland in N.Davidson 1 (op. cit) p. 53-59.
  • (137) The pre-1970 link with the old Ulster Unionist Party had always made support for the Jacobites trickier for the Tories, although there was a strong connection in the eighteenth century, when most Protestants were Whigs. However, when Thatcher was battening down the hatches on the good ship Britannia some Scottish Tories began to feel a little uncomfortable. They looked for Scottish some populist cover. Malcolm Rifkind attempted to relieve Scottish Tories with an erudite scratch at their Jacobite origins (A Marr, The Battle for Scotland, p.9). E. Cruikshanks and J. Black provided academic respectability for the Tories’ neo-Jacobite cause (see I Olsen’s review in Cencrastus, no. 34), Jim Young highlights the pro-unionist and imperialist aspects of the very English Tory radical tradition represented by William Cobbet Jim fails to see that it has a close cousin in this Scottish Tory Jacobite radicalism. I prefer the term populist to describe both phenomena.
  • (138) P. Linebaugh & M.Rediker, The Many-Headed Hydra – The Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic.
  • (139) See section The Struggle Over Ratification in N.Davidson 1 (op. cit.) p. 131-59.
  • (140) W.McDowell, History of the Burgh of Dumfries.
  • (141) W. McDowell (op, cit) p. 538.
  • (142) A. Armstrong 1 (op. cit) p 32 also quoting A. Calder, Revolutionary Empire – The Rise of the English-Speaking Empires from the Fifteenth Century to the 1780’s, p.536. You can gather by the title, that Angus’s work could be used to support a left unionist or Whig view of history. This is probably why it has been pushed by the SWP in the past. However, like Neil’s book it is well worth reading and is packed with useful information, as well as developing the political logic of the Whig revolutionary tradition. I also find James Young’s books written from a left nationalist or Jacobite view full of useful information that has long been buried. Significantly both these authors are now supporters of the SSP. Is it possible for the SSP to organise its own Historians’ Group, in which non-professionals can be involved?
  • (143) A.Armstrong 1 (op. cit.) p. 32  also quoting J.Prebble (op.cit.) p.289.
  • (144) Political quietism isn’t a mode of (in)activity unknown to the SWP. They spent much of the 1980s under the dark cloud of The Downturn, or the left face of New Realism. New Realism was the name given to the Labour Party’s accomodation to the Capitalist Offensive when it was done under Old Labour! New Labour is a development of New Realism, which is why we don’t want to recreate the SSP as a new old Labour Party! The SWP‘s own Downturn dogma was adopted before the Miners’ Strike! In Scotland even the massive Anti-Poll Tax struggle hardly raised the SWP out of its torpor. The giveaway indicators of passivity, were their slogans, Willis (TUC General Secretary) and Kinnock (Labour leader), Get Off Your Knees and Fight! Unfortunately they did – only they fought us! However, it is to the SWP‘s credit that, since Seattle, the international anti-globalisation/anti-capitalism struggles have put a new lease of life into their activities. And they’ve come out of political isolation and joined the SSP.
  • (145) Improvement was the seventeenth century equivalent of the word which later superceded it – Progress – which appeared in the nineteenth century and was taken up with great gusto by Stalin.
  • (146) It’s revealing that Hanoverian blasphemy is considered more sinful than Jacobite promiscuity!
  • (147) These late Cameronian Declarations are to be found in an absolutely vital source for all would-be historians of sects, either ancient or modern. Rev. W. M’Millan Covenanting Declarations – At Sanquhar and Elsewhere. It is also interesting to see that as they become more isolated, these sects perceive there to be an increasing number of enemies. In 1742 the McMillanites produced a Declaration of the Anti-Popish, Anti-Lutheran, Anti-Prelatick, Anti-Whitfieldian, Anti-Erastian, Anti-Sectarian, true Presbyterian Church in Scotland. Compare this with their Declaration of 1707 (see 6.iii). I have a favourite even longer list in the text, not the title, of a 1715 McMillanite Declaration – but I want to keep that as a party piece!
  • (148) I think this is from H.Macpherson (op. cit).
  • (149) Rev. W. M’Millan (op. cit.) p.25 quoting a 1745 Howdenite Declaration. The Cameronians had a thing about the ‘Tartars’ (see section 6.ii). They were first compared with the Highland Host (1678) and then with the Redcoats (1746), However, on these occasions the Cameronians had either to suffer or to stand by. Therefore it is a cruel irony that it was Stalin’s ‘revolution from above’ which led to the ethnic cleansing of the real, not imaginary, Crimean Tartars, and of course, the better known Caucasian Chechens.
  • (150) J. Prebble (op. cit) p. 301-2.
  • (151)  A. Armstrong 1 (op. cit.) p.30-1.
  • (152) A. Armstrong 1 (op. cit.) p. 30.
  • (153) J. Halliday (op. cit.) p. 108.
  • (154) A. Armstrong 1 (op. cit.) p. 30.
  • (155) J. Prebble(op. cit.) p. 301.
  • (156) J. Halliday (op. cit.) p. 115.
  • (157) Whilst I have made some fairly scathing comments on the recent Left sect tradition in the
    UK, it is by engaging with the new problems in the wider world presented by global corporate imperialism and the destruction of old forms of organisation that socialists can become relevant again today.
  • (158) A. Drummond & J. Bulloch,  The Scottish Church, 1688-1843, p.26.
  • (159) J. Douglas,  Light in the North, p.185.
  • (160) J. Douglas (op, cit.) p. 185-6.
  • (161) P. Brooke, Ulster Prebyterianism – The Historical Perspective, 1610-1970, p .95.
  • (162) With a name like John Paul you can see why the Paisleyites don’t celebrate this particular champion of Presbyerian orthodoxy (and republicanism)!
  • (163) P. Brooke, (op.cit.) p.175.
  • (164) J. Brims, The Covenanting Tradition and Scottish Radicalism in the 1790’s in T. Brotherstone, edit. (op. cit.) p.50-62.
  • (165) J.Halliday (op. cit.) p.126.
  • (166) J. Prebble (op.cit.) p. 317.
  • (167) See M.Donnelly, Thomas Muir of Huntershill, 1765 – 99. Colin Fox has always maintained that Muir’s life would make a great film. With all the film industry talent in the SSP perhaps this project should get beyond the if only stage.
  • (168) J.Brims  (op.cit.) p. 57.
  • (169) J.Brims (op.cit.) p. 57.
  • (170) j. Young,  The Rousing of the Scottish Working Class, p.59.
  • (171) SeeC. Withers,  Gaelic Communities in the Lowlands, 1708-1880, in Gaelic in Scotland, 1698 – 1981, p. 182-208.
  • (172) See once again the very informative work by John Prebble, this time a pamphlet, Riot! – The people’s insurrections of 1797 in Strathtay.
  • (173) See very good collection and commentary, The Canongate Burns, edited by A. &. P.Hogg edited by A. & P. Hogg.
  • (174) Although others have suggested he say have seen the same stonemason working as Sir Walter Scott [see reference (81)]. For more information see I. Wilson, In the Tracks of Old Mortality – the Story of Robert Paterson 1716-1801 – Stonemason.
  • (175) A. & P.Hogg (op. cit.) p. 875.
  • (176) A. & P.Hogg (op. cit.) p. 512.
  • (177) However, I wonder if Colin knows that Robert Burns wrote some verses, Inscribed to the Right Honourable C. Fox! [see A & P.Hogg (op.cit) p. 173]

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Aug 03 2003

Beyond Broadswords and Bayonets

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 05&06RCN @ 3:05 pm

Challenging left nationalism and left unionism in the SSP

Neil Davidson’s latest work on Scottish history, Discovering the Scottish Revolution 1692-1746 has generated considerable debate in the Scottish Socialist Party. Allan Armstrong gives his analysis of the book and its critics.Introduction by Bob Goupillot

In writing Beyond Broadswords and Bayonets, his response to the debate around Neil Davidson’s book Discovering the Scottish Revolution 1692 – 1746, Allan Armstrong has done all those interested in Scottish history from a working class and Marxist perspective a great favour.

Socialists writing on Scottish history tend to be influenced by one of two contending perspectives, either that of left nationalism or left unionism. Left nationalists identify with the story of the emerging Scottish nation going back to at least pre-feudal times. The heroes of this story are those figures seen to be defending Scotland and its independence (even when they are attacking the people and their liberties). Thus Wallace and Bruce are equally esteemed, despite Wallace rallying the commons and burghers in the defence of their rights, whilst Bruce pursued his family’s own dynastic, feudal interests.

In contrast left unionists see the rise of the British state and capitalism as progressive because they lead to the development of Capitalism and its gravedigger the working class. From this perspective Scottish history is seen only as a subordinate part of the much more important British story. Even Marxists and good socialists like Neil see developing the forces of production and the rise of the
UK state as an entirely good thing. The extreme version of this view sees the rise of Capitalism as natural, inevitable and progressive even if it entails destroying the lives and liberty of real, living, feeling, human beings. This left wing version of the Whig view of history reflects an arid mechanical, materialism where people are passive objects shaped by the laws of history rather than revolutionary subjects.

Allan, however, maintains that there is another, genuinely working class, perspective on history – Internationalism from Below. This view challenges monarchical Jacobitism and pro-capitalist Unionism and the idea that what actually happened was the best or the only or the inevitable outcome of the struggles of the working class and their forebears. We must remember that the rise of British capitalism depended directly on the defeat of radical, democratic and revolutionary forces such as the English Levellers and the Scottish Cameronians. (or later in history the Luddites – much misunderstood by socialists from Marx onwards) Allan reminds us that there were other historical possibilities, other alternative outcomes, such as a victorious Levellers aligning themselves with the old remnant clan forces in Ireland and making links with those radical Covenanters prepared to look beyond the dogma of the ministers – the commissars of the day.

He identifies a red thread running from William Wallace through the Covenanters, Cameronians and United Scotsmen to its most famous representatives, James Connolly and John Maclean. What links these individuals and movements is that whilst they defended their own rights, they were aware of their connection to struggles going on beyond the borders of Scotland. Along the way Allan demolishes a few cherished myths. These include that Edward I, the Hammer of the Scots, was an early representative of an aggressive English nationalism; when in fact he was king of an officially French speaking feudal empire with lands in England, Wales, Ireland and Gascony. Similarly, neither Robert the Bruce, the Lords of the Isles nor the Stuart dynasty can be viewed as defenders of Scottish independence and/or Gaelic/Celtic culture.

Of the links in the revolutionary chain mentioned above, by far the least well known are the Cameronians. Left nationalists ignore them because they were opposed to Jacobite absolutism, the divine right of kings and monarchical control of the church. (They famously defeated a Jacobite army at Dunkeld. This Jacobite force had previously defeated Williamite forces at the much better known Battle of Killiekrankie).

In contrast, they are devalued by left unionists because of their opposition to the Act of Union. Allan argues that their neglect by Scottish socialists is unforgivable in that they represent the most revolutionary and democratic force in Scotland in what were revolutionary times. Indeed they have been compared to by analogy with the red guards of the Russian Revolution. When a Scottish Convention of the Estates met in Edinburgh in 1689 the Cameronians marched their armed men into the city and turned out all those ministers who supported James VII and his Episcopalian Church from their kirks. They went on to set up an armed Watching Committee over a Convention of the Estates, thus creating a situation of dual power.

However, for Allan, this is not just a history lesson. He describes an indigenous revolutionary tradition that can inspire us today. We can be inspired by Wallace in the same way that Marx identified with Spartacus (despite his lack of a revolutionary programme and failure to promote democratic centralism). As always with Allan, democracy is the key. Grass-roots control is the true measure of radicalism (and even proto-socialism). He contrasts the open debate and decision making of the Cameronians General Meetings with the absolute monarchy – supporting Jacobites.

Today the multinational British state denies self determination to Scotland in a non-voluntary union. The struggle to right this democratic deficit must be led by socialists otherwise it will be led by bourgeois nationalists like the SNP, or at best, as in Ireland, by revolutionary nationalists like Sinn Fein.

For Allan we must become Scottish Internationalists and in fighting the battle for a Scottish Workers Republic reach out to our allies, particularly in England, Wales and Ireland, because we face the same class enemy, embodied in the British state.

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Aug 03 2003

Ireland’s Good Friday Agreement the end and no perhaps

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 05&06RCN @ 3:03 pm

John McAnulty (Socialist Democracy, Belfast) examines the end of the Good Friday Agreement and its effect on the political forces in Ireland

The April cancellation of elections to the local Stormont assembly in the North of Ireland marks a significant new stage in the decay of British plans to bring about a settlement of the Irish question on their terms. The indefinite suspension followed an earlier temporary suspension of elections and the dramatic closure, in October last year, of the local Stormont assembly itself and the dissolution of the executive amid a mass police raid on the parliamentary offices of Sinn Fein. The Good Friday Agreement, signed five years ago, was presented as Britain withdrawing gracefully from the direct rule of its colony in the North of Ireland and handing over to a process of co-operation between local politicians and between the colonial structure in the North and the formally independent Southern state. In practice the British kept appearing from behind the comicopera façade of the Stormont assembly to make further demands on the Republican leadership, further concessions to their local supporters in the Unionist Party, to redefine the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and shift them to the right. They moved to suspend and collapse the local structures, making it crystal clear that all the claims of a new democratic dispensation in Ireland are false and that the old colonial structures, supported by religious sectarianism, remain in place. Just how comic-opera the Good Friday structures are is indicated by the fact that over 100 elected representatives and a full cabinet representing all the major local parties were needed to rule just under 1.5 million people – and were replaced in an instant by three British Labour Party backbenchers!

But the April events do not represent the collapse of the Good Friday Agreement. That collapsed finally with the collapse of the executive. They represent something much more significant – the stillborn death of Good Friday mark two. This collapsed before it was launched, despite the personal involvement of George Bush and Tony Blair and despite repeated, and ever more desperate, attempts by the Republican leadership to indicate its total support for the new state institutions and willingness to disband the
IRA. The fact of this collapse led Lord Kilcooney, aka John Taylor, notorious weathervane of the Unionist leadership, to predict that it would be a generation before a new Stormont assembly would reconvene.

Sectarian privilege

It was the same Lord Kilcooney who pointed out the fatal flaw in the original deal, signed 5 years ago. This agreement, drawn up by the British and the Dublin government, saw the Irish bourgeoisie follow an earlier de facto recognition of the Northern colony with a de jure recognition. A few cosmetic all-Ireland committees were draped around this legal shift and the nationalists were promised places in a powersharing coalition in a new local parliament. British rule in Ireland was to continue, sectarianism was to continue. The major shift was that nationalists, completely excluded from political power in the old Stormont regime preceding the troubles, were to have their share of sectarian privilege. The Republicans, militarily at a dead end and moving towards a more rightwing and nationalist orientation decided to climb on the bandwagon and claim victory.

Kilcooney remarked dryly that the Unionists were willing to share power in a revamped Northern colony, of course, he went on, it could not be equal amounts of power. The point was unanswerable. There really is no point to sectarianism if it is to be an equality of sectarian privilege.

The British pinned their hopes on moderate middle class unionism led rather unconvincingly by the arch-bigot David Trimble. The problem here was that the Trimble wing never had a programme of reaching an accommodation with nationalism. Their argument was that it was through the structures of the GFA that they would best be able to defend their sectarian privileges, either totally crushing and humiliating the Republicans and/or forcing them from the government. The Republicans were well aware of Trimble’s position, but believed that the British would punish the Unionists if they broke the structures of the agreement. In any case they believed that the nationalist family of the Irish capitalist parties and of Irish America would hold the British to their word.

The British saw things differently. If the North was to remain a colony to ensure capitalist stability in Ireland, it would need to continue to base itself on sectarian privilege and on a mass unionist base. Their job was to placate unionism – by bending the agreement to the right and even to the extent of turning a blind eye to open campaigns of sectarian intimidation by Loyalist paramilitaries. The Unionists demanded, and got, the destruction of IRA weapons by the Republican leadership. All this did was to embolden the even more reactionary forces to the right of Trimble. It became clear that only the public and unconditional surrender of the IRA and its immediate disbandment would save the agreement. In the absence of this the agreement collapsed.

The British role

However the nature of the collapse indicated that the Republican analysis and Republican strategy had collapsed also.

Good Friday Mark 1 failed because of Unionist protest at allegations of continued
IRA activity – mostly intelligence gathering activity. In fact this activity did not break the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, based on an IRA ceasefire. These ceasefire activities kept the IRA ticking over and helped prevent discontent, but had absolutely no political significance. Given the level of penetration by British intelligence and, more importantly, the abandonment of the republican programme by the leadership, there was absolutely no prospect of that activity leading to a new conflict.

The Unionist protests were in factsimply cynical ploys to add a new element to the agreement – the demand for disbandment. They lacked any moral dimension. At the same time that they demanded IRA disbandment the Trimble group were part of an organisation called the Loyalist Commission. Its task was to provide political cover for armed sectarian attacks by the Loyalist groups – most notably attacks on Catholic primary school girls at Holy Cross school in Ardoyne.

The big shock to Republican strategy was the British response. The police raid on Sinn Fein’s parliamentary offices kicked away the illusions of a parliamentary democracy with the same efficiency as a few careless kicks demolish a sandcastle. It served dramatic notice that the British would not negate their history in Ireland and suddenly play a progressive role, that the British supported Unionist demands, that Sinn Fein would have to do a great deal more if they wanted to preserve the pretence of power and that the demand for IRA disbandment would be the starting point for future negotiations to establish a new agreement. In a visit to Belfast Tony Blair spelt it all out. The promises of the Good Friday Agreement, supposedly set in stone, were now conditional on the unconditional surrender of the Republicans. The final blow came when Sinn Fein’s friends in the nationalist parties North and South and their friends in Washington all lined up to lash out and demand capitulation.

GFA Mark 2 fails

Sinn Fein offered no resistance. The period from October to March was spent in carefully crafting these conditions. The collapse of the negotiations at least allows the Irish working class to see the nature of the deal. At their centre was to be an IRA declaration that they would surrender arms, run down background activities and were moving towards disbandment and that Sinn Fein would unambiguously support the structures of the new state by joining the police boards. In case this was not enough Dublin and London would establish a commission that would oversee the winding down of the IRA and punish Sinn Fein if the military wing showed any sign of activity.

The reward, spelt out in a joint declaration by London and Dublin, would be a reduction in military levels. Some border watchtowers would be demolished, and the British army would be reduced to only 5000 soldiers and 14 bases – subject of course to their being absolutely no resistance. The sectarian colonial structures at Stormont would be re-established, repressive legislation would be redrafted – not to meet human rights demands but to allow nationalist influence on various boards and quangos. There would be some further pretence at cosmetic reform of the police and a small number of On the Runs – Republicans still wanted by the British – would be allowed to return home under extraordinarily humiliating circumstances. They would be tried by a commission on the allegations put forward at the time they left, a sentence would be imposed and they would then be released on licence – subject to imprisonment at the whim of the ritish administration.

There were however some worrying signs. A first attempt to make the deal at a summit led by Blair and Irish Taoiseach Bertie Aherne ended in disarray when the Unionist parties walked out. The final deal was crafted, only to be torn away from the fingernails of the Sinn Fein leadership as they made lunge after desperate lunge to meet British terms.

The Republicans were told that the IRA statement, carefully worded so that it would read surrender to the British and yet be sold to the republican base, was insufficient and unclear. Desperately Gerry Adams stepped forward to provide that clarity – that is to define the terms of surrender in words provided by the British. The British responded by declaring that this was real progress – if only Gerry had used the word will instead of would. Adams provided the missing word, but this was not enough. It was now necessary to list in detail all the activities that the Republicans would now abjure. What part of absolutely no activity do you not understand?, asked Adams. But by now it was clear that no words would be enough.

The reality that had now dawned was that the Unionist opposition to sharing power with Sinn Fein was absolute. There were no conditions to meet because there were no conditions under which the Trimble wing of Unionism could enter elections and propose a coalition government with Sinn Fein that would not lead to its defeat and a large majority for anti – agreement forces in his own party and for the rejectionist, and even more bigoted, Paisleyite Democratic Unionist Party. Even bearing Gerry Adam’s head on a spike, Trimble was bound to be defeated. The Unionists would not share power with Sinn Fein and even hints that they would share power with nationalists if Sinn Fein were excluded seemed distinctly shaky. Under these conditions the British role became what it was in the fall of GFA 1 – to pull the plug, defend Unionism and condemn the Republicans for not giving enough.

Back to the drawing board

However this is not a re-run of the October collapse. This is not yet another suspension of the cardboard executive or postponement of the elections and no amended GFA 3 waits in the wings. The indefinite postponement of the elections in the North is in fact their cancellation. With the elections goes much of the structure and political content of the Good Friday Agreement. There will be no Autumn election because the agreement itself contains provision for a review that must take place then. After 5 years, surrounded by the ruins of GFA 1 and GFA 2, the review will inevitably become negotiation for a completely new settlement.

The outline of that settlement should be clear. Good Friday has fallen twice to the right under the weight of Unionist bigotry. On both occasions the British have provided cover and blamed Republicanism. Irish nationalism and US imperialism stand foursquare with Britain. Britain will chair the new negotiations and set the agenda. Only one conclusion is possible. The weakness of the Good Friday Agreement was that it was too radical! It gave nothing to Irish democracy, but that nothing was too much! Any new arrangement must shift away from coalition structures to even weaker structures. There must be a greater shift of power towards direct British patronage and appointed committees, where the Unionists are better able to ensure that they maintain the lion’s share of sectarian privilege. The republicans will be made an offer they can’t refuse – a more humiliating surrender and less reward for it. To some extent that shift has already begun. The British are going ahead with a promise to dismantle a few watchtowers in South Armagh that they no longer need. There are behind the scenes talks about the legislation involving On the Runs. The British will press the Republicans to give full support to the new police and join the policing boards.

The most immediate sufferers will be the Republicans. The British can continue to reward them but they cannot give them the rewards they really need. Only parliamentary seats and ministerial positions in the North can hide the absolute collapse of their strategy of reform and give momentum to the only tactic they have left – to use their Northern electoral success to propel themselves to greater electoral success in the formally independent 26 counties. In any case the Stakeknife story of a high-level informer in the IRA leadership shows that conditions are now much more hostile for the Republicans. They are confronted by stories of brutality that they cannot now justify from their current political perspective while at the same time the cotton wool protection that was afforded by the media and state intelligence services has clearly been removed.

However the outlook in the longer term is ominous for the British. Negotiating a new agreement and making it work will depend on a capitulation to Unionist sectarianism by the nationaliststhat will be difficult to sell to their base. A settlement, if it is established at all, will depend for its operation on the absence of any largescale resistance. No amount of bribery seems sufficient to keep the thugs in the various loyalist groups at bay.

The Irish working class has been very firmly asleep. By and large it has accepted claims that the Celtic Tiger will deliver prosperity and, on the back of this acceptance, it has further accepted that the Good Friday Agreement is some sort of halfway house to a democratic solution. The credibility of Irish capital is much more shaky on the economic front, with announcements of widespread cuts and privatisation drives and regretful shrugs to indicate that the workers have unfortunately missed the prosperity boat. Their political credibility on the national question is also due a fall when it becomes clear that the Good Friday Agreement has gone. Britain has had a situation in which they had absolute support for their strategy from the vast majority of the Irish working class. They weren’t able to translate that support and their massive economic, political and military power into a stable, let alone democratic solution.

The Marxist analysis suggests that imperialism will never be able to do so.

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Aug 03 2003

Leadership and the anti-war movement

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 05&06RCN @ 2:59 pm

This article, by Phil Sharpe, on the Stop the War Coalition was first published in the summer edition of Socialist Future Review. We reprint it with permission.

The American and UK governments were determined to carry on with their aggressive political approach, regardless of the level of protests generated against it. This created a real challenge for the anti-war movement and all those in struggle against the Bush-Blair axis.

The massive demonstrations world-wide on February 15 against the USUK drive to war against Iraq seemed to many an irresistible pressure that would result in a retreat by Washington and London. Instead, as we know, the invasion was launched in March and the Saddam Hussein regime overthrown in a relatively short period. Hopes of some that the United States and Britain would become bogged down in a new Vietnam proved short-lived.

Vietnam was an entirely different struggle. The American ruling class was initially united about sending the troops into Vietnam and only began to show splits in the wake of serious military reversals. The Vietnamese liberation forces were an expression of the popular aspiration for national self-determination. This meant that political support translated into a formidable military force that was able to win significant victories over the USA armed forces and its proxies. The Vietnamese had already defeated the French and were armed with modern equipment. In contrast, the Bush administration knew that Iraq was a country with its own internal divisions, which it could exploit for military advantage. In Iraq, American and British troops were never confronted with an armed force that was comparable to the Vietnamese national liberation army. Furthermore, United Nations sanctions had weakened the military capability and resolve of the Iraqi troops, and the army lacked capable and resolute leadership. The Saddam dictatorship, which had engaged in military adventures for more than 20 years, proved incapable of rallying his ill-equipped army.

The aim of Bush and Blair is to develop an aggressive approach that upholds the interests of global capital against any national andregional opposition. On this basis possible further military action is envisaged against rogue states like Iran, Syria and North Korea. They were determined to carry on with their aggressive political approach, regardless of the level of protests which were generated against it. Their stance has created a real challenge for the anti-war movement and all those in struggle against the Bush-Blair axis. The STWC helped to bring millions on to the streets of Britain in the countdown to war — far fewer once the invasion was under way. How has it tried to come to terms politically with and develop the initiative in the context of rapidly changing events?

A bulletin posted on the STWC website after the military action ended, claimed:

There can be few victories which have turned to ashes so quickly. The Iraqis have not welcomed the occupying US and British forces and there have been widespread demonstrations in the country against the occupying armies which have resulted in scores of Iraqis being killed.

The bulletin adds:

We have entered a new phase of the campaign following the end of the war, but there is very large bedrock of support remaining on which we can continue to build. The slogan End The Occupation Now! is obviously the central question here. It is also the slogan being raised by millions of Iraqis so fits very much into international solidarity.

There then follow details about the campaign to defend MP George Galloway from New Labour’s threat against his party membership, with STWC supporters urged to email Blair with their protests. There is no analysis of the fact that despite the massive numbers on the streets, the invasion and occupation of Iraq went ahead. There are no thoughts about the changed political situation. The perspective, as we have noted, is simply applying protest and pressure to end the occupation of Iraq by British and American forces. But it is inadequate to claim that it is business as usual. For making this claim effectively means that the anti-war movement becomes nothing more than an expression of nostalgia about the February 15 protests.

STWC’s leadership

The leadership of STWC as an organisation is provided by a coalition of the old guard Stalinists of the British Communist Party, and the Socialist Workers Party. In the aftermath of February 15 demonstration this leadership was content to go with the flow and call for more mass marches and local actions. But of course, the beginning of military action began to pose new challenges about how to develop the anti-war movement. Primarily, it meant the need to develop a real and conscious struggle against the New Labour government which, after all, was a joint sponsor of the invasion.

So how did the STWC leadership respond to this? The answer is that the leadership tried to respond in terms of business as usual rather than recognising what was new and challenging about the situation. For they had effectively called for a U-turn by the New Labour government. This was actually an unrealistic approach that did not accept the full commitment and support of New Labour as a government for an attack on Iraq. In practice, this meant the STWC became an appendage of the Labour revolt against the war plans. But, the superficial nature of this revolt was shown in that with a few exceptions, the Labour rebels were silent during the war, and made no calls for its end. Consequently, STWC leaders became politically paralysed restricted by their refusal to go beyond the politics of the Labour left.

In the April issue of the SWP’s Socialist Review journal, after an uncomfortable reference to the situation in Iraq, the editorial ends with the usual call for mass protests in order to put pressure on Blair to stop the war:

This is a weak and divided government whose future is as uncertain as the military campaign in Iraq. The more we protest, strike and demonstrate against it the more we increase the likelihood that it will be defeated – raising the prospect of an end to the war in Iraq. As the bombs rain down in Baghdad and as the suffering continues there is no time to lose.(1)

Protest politics

This comment only goes to show that the call for more protests was a cover for the vacillating stance of the SWP once the war had actually started. The protest politics of the SWP are used to gloss over the crucial issue that faced the anti-war movement, which was the need to truly become an anti-imperialist current that defended Iraq by calling for the overthrow of the New Labour government. Instead, to the SWP, this one-sided opportunist emphasis on the importance of protests became a way of avoiding the necessity of developing a principled and flexible politics in to respond to a changing situation. This is not to suggest that mass protests are unimportant, but they require political leadership based upon revolutionary strategic principles and objectives if they are to have a long-term significance. For the SWP, however, the call for more protests had become a convenient device to try and disguise the indecision, lack of direction and poor leadership in a situation of actual war. To the SWP, it was as if time stopped before March 19, 2003 when war started. What was actually required was a strategy that emphasises the need to bring down the New Labour government and replace it with a government based upon democratic structures of genuine mass participation.

The SWP editorial could not even call for the removal of Blair and was instead content to repeat its utopian and ineffective call for protests to put pressure on Blair to stop the war. In this context, the editorial even expresses the hope that the government will be somehow defeated and so the war will be stopped.(2) But this view is expressed almost as a despairing hope rather than representing a perspective with any real political content. For the only way that Blair can actually be defeated is by bringing down the New Labour government. Hence the word defeating is used in an ambiguous and abstract way, an empty generality which could mean a variety of things to different types of people. It is the use of radical language to gloss over the actual unwillingness of the SWP to call unambiguously for the bringing down of New Labour. So this use of the term defeating Blair is another way of trying to keep pressure politics attractive to those in the anti-war movement – just at the point when many must have questioned the point of pressuring New Labour.

Peace through revolutionary struggle

The SWP’s politics is based on the moral and ethical assumption that war is immoral and needs to be opposed. So peace becomes the only possible and required outcome of this stance. In contrast, revolutionary Marxism shows that the contradictory nature of capitalism means that war is an integral aspect of the existing social relations, and is an attempt to displace these contradictions. Hence the only way to realise peace is by revolutionary struggle against the imperatives of global capital. But to the SWP, this approach is for the long-term, and the immediate and realistic short-term aim is to struggle for peace, and to therefore carry out protests and make demands for peace. Thus when war breaks out, the SWP are disorientated because capital has not acted according to what they thought was possible. This approach represents an idealist outlook, one of trying to modify the actions and policies of capital without directly and decisively opposing the present system. Reality has its own logic, however, and those who are not prepared for a sudden turn of events find themselves in political crisis.

In order to provide ideological comfort to their supporters, the SWP editorial describes New Labour as a weak and divided government.(3) This view is not without its truth, but if not understood in its contradictory aspects it becomes formal and dogmatic. For it is increasingly obvious that the New Labour government has become politically unstable and liable to splits and differences. But it is precisely this context which explains why Blair was so willing to support Bush and go to war against Iraq. For Blair understood that with the increasing disaffection of traditional supporters, the only way to sustain New Labour is to become even more openly imperialist, nationalist and chauvinist. Furthermore, Blair recognises alongside Bush that war is becoming central to upholding the interests of global capital. This is why to consistently oppose war is to oppose New Labour and to call for a revolutionary alternative. Instead, the SWP considers that the futile tactic of trying to change the mind of New Labour could somehow stop the war.

In the May issue of Socialist Review, an article by John Rees attempts to provide an overall evaluation of the Stop the War movement.(4) Rees, one of the main leaders of the STWC, begins with a description of the impressive scale and scope of the national and international demonstrations, and he argues that:

We now know the profound impact that this movement had on the British government. Tony Blair warned both civil servants and his family that he might lose his job and contingency plans were drawn up to bring British troops back from the Gulf.

This comment seems to be an expression of radical defiance, an indication that even if the anti-war movement did not succeed in its aims it still came very close to realising its objectives.

Such a view may have the desired effect of consoling some supporters of STWC about the apparent narrowness of their defeat. What it does not explain is why they were defeated, and what this indicates about the connected limitations of protest politics. For what Rees cannot explain is why such high levels of militancy and campaigning were ultimately unsuccessful and even put on the defensive by the actual advent of war. The inability of Rees to outline a cogent answer to these points is that he does not recognise that Blair and Bush are prepared to take political risks, and are committed to ruthlessly ensuring that their strategic and military tasks are practically realised in the best interests of global capital.

Rees seems to agree with the common sense and pragmatic view that New Labour policy is flexibly defined by nothing more than spin and public opinion polls. Consequently he considers it was possible to get New Labour and Blair to back down over the war. But New Labour policy is more coherent than an expression of popularity contests. It is actually dictated by the contemporary requirements of global capital, which is why Blair was so adamant in his support of Bush and the overthrow of the Iraqi regime. Regardless of what he might have said to the media, Blair was prepared not to back down, and this is precisely what caused a problem for the STWC leadership.

In his article, Rees seems to acknowledge the necessity for the anti-war movement to go beyond its protest origins and preoccupations: This is an important point: the anti-war movement is not only a protest movement taking action out of principle, it is also a movement powerful enough to actually change the political course of British society.(5) Rees’ comment is actually strong on rhetoric and sadly lacking in real theoretical and political content. For in practice, Rees rejects the perspective of mobilising to defeat the New Labour government. A general call to change the course of British society is absolutely meaningless. New Labour is, after all, the government.

Only a call to go beyond it can connect the protests to a coherent and strategic vision to transform society in a democratic and participatory manner.

Rees might suggest that what he is advocating will facilitate the anti-war movement’s transformation into an ambitious political entity. Firstly, he argues:

One obvious solution is that the supporters of the organised left grow in numbers. The more the socialist organisations grow the greater the clarity and mobilisation capacity of the whole movement grows. (6)

But the question of political coherence is not merely provided by increasing numbers, because the primary question still remains of what concrete politics and policies can take the movement forward. Rees advocates putting pressure on New Labour to change its policies. Consequently his call for more socialist influence is actually a call for building the influence of opportunist politics with the aim of influencing existing British society.

Trade unionists

Rees also calls for greater trade union and working class involvement in the anti-war movement. But this is not made in terms of the political development of an alternative to New Labour, but rather of using the trade unions in terms of an organisational capacity for pressure group politics:

Each trade unionist has the power to organise greater numbers around them. They have, potentially access to funds, mailing lists and audiences that the unorganised lack. More than this, such activity brings pressure directly to bear on the Labour government.(7)

This patronising description of the role of trade unionists is an expression of how Rees envisages the role of the working class. He wants to encourage a new layer of activists to be involved, who will be prepared to help with the donkey work. Rees’ elitist view towards trade unionists is connected to his pressure group mentality. He considers that politics is all about the implementation of pressure by a presumably unthinking rank and file. The invasion of Iraq, together with a whole range of reactionary New Labour policies, has produced a tangible shift away from the Blair government. Many trade unions are facing calls from below for an end to affiliation to Labour. Votershave deserted Blair in droves. One of the least publicised marches during the war was of 10,000 Muslims in the East End of London. They protested outside the offices of a local MP who backed the invasion and may well put up a candidate at the next election.

Rees tries to make an adjustment to these developments by writing: On the left, in the unions, among the Muslim community, hundreds of thousands of people want to see a radical alternative to New Labour. Rees’s call for a genuine pole of attraction built by broader forces than the existing Left seems an expression of the present diverse and plural aspiration to go beyond the limits of New Labour. The actual political content is to try and channel mass struggles into the organisational needs and political requirements of the SWP. For the only organisation that Rees presently envisages being built as a necessary political organisation is the revolutionary party, defined exclusively as the SWP. In this context the anti-war movement is considered to be a united front that acts to facilitate the process of building the SWP. This point is diplomatically absent from the Rees article on the development of the anti-war coalition but is constantly articulated and defended by articles on the party question.(8)

Movements such as the STWC are considered as essentially reformist from which the SWP is differentiated as revolutionary:

But genuine unity of action depends on separation on matters of principle such as reform and revolution. We cannot properly determine those immediate issues on which we can unite unless we also properly, and organisationally, separate over matters of principle.(9)

The anti-war movement is envisaged as one homogenous reformist bloc, and only the SWP is considered to be revolutionary.

Two conclusions emerge from this viewpoint. Firstly, it is necessary to accommodate to the perceived unmoving reformist consciousness of the STWC participants.

Secondly, the only way that rigid reformist ideas can be transformed into revolutionary ideas is by organisational recruitment into the SWP.

Thus the SWP does not effectively consider the necessity to develop politics that relates to people in struggle and tries to challenge the limitations of existing ideas and practices. For ideas and social practices have a constant process of self-movement which shows the possibility for often seemingly entrenched reformist and reactionary views to be transformed into a potentially revolutionary standpoint. Real revolutionary politics acts to facilitate the process of transforming existing views, and overcome the accommodation to existing dominant ideologies and acceptance of reformist ideas. Instead the SWP seeks to accommodate to presumed fixed reformist ideas as the organisational basis to win the maximum number of people to its party political ranks. This is why the SWP considered the STWC movement as a convenient political vehicle. It obtained a leadership position that enabled it to accommodate to what it considered to be reformist consciousness and at the same time obtain maximum political influence for the possibility of recruiting to the revolutionary organisation.

In practice, however, the SWP was increasingly tailing behind the spontaneous emergence of a popular mood, which was that of the need to challenge the reactionary politics of New Labour. This point is illustrated by Rees’s view that the Labour left rebellion could have stopped the war: “The critical moment came around the time of the second vote in the House of Commons on Tuesday 18 March. Accident had some role to play in all of this. Had Clare Short resigned alongside Robin Cook, thus ensuring the backbench rebellion was even larger than it was, Britain might well have been forced out of the war.”(10) This type of wishful thinking perpetuates the myth that the Labour left can somehow transform New Labour and overcome its present reactionary character. It expresses an ideological illusion that Blair does not represent the party, and that it is still politically productive to try and maintain the Labour Party.

Plurality and diversity

The plurality and diversity of the anti-war movement represented people who had illusions in the UN, but it also had more militant and anti-imperialist sections which came to represent the dominant mood of the anti-war movement after the war had started. For it was shown conclusively that the UN could not stop war, and that instead the Bush and Blair administration had effectively bypassed it in order to start the war against Iraq. In this context, the demonstrations of March and April, whilst smaller, were more militant and increasingly expressed a mood of opposition to the politics of New Labour. Hence it was not surprising that placards were evident in March and April calling for regime change in Britain. Thus the spontaneous enthusiasm of the marchers was beginning to articulate a mood of both defiance and the need for political alternatives to New Labour.

The STWC leaders have interpreted this militant mood as a willingness for support for an endless diet of demonstrations, meetings and more protests. Certainly there will be dedicated support for continuing the campaign against the occupation of Iraq. Also the prospect of more militaristic action by the representatives of global capital will generate the potential for future mass anti-war struggles. But it is also important to understand that the rapid growth and mass scope of the anti-war movement expressed an opposition to the old and a desire for the new. The anti-war movement was an important beginning of increasing discontent with existing political structures and the spontaneous articulation of the need for the development to an alternative. In this context, the movement is a worthy ally of the global anticapitalist movement. The SWP has attempted to reduce its character to reformism. Instead within the shell of apparent protest, was the emergence of a social movement with a yearning for a better world. This is what we must build on to go beyond New Labour and in so doing go beyond global capitalism.

Phil Sharpe

References

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Aug 03 2003

Blair, Bush and the Iraqi occupation: reality bites

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 05&06RCN @ 2:56 pm

With a secure and supplicant Iraq still a long way off, Nick Clarke looks at the reality that faces Bush and his War on Terror and Blair and his weapons of mass destruction.

On May 1st, President Bush announced the official end of the second war with Iraq. Four months later, barely a day fails to go by without another serious armed assault on the occupying forces. It’s becoming a cliché, but more US and UK forces have been killed during the peace than during the war. And still those elusive Iraqi WMD have not been found. Blair and his coterie still attempt to convince an increasingly sceptical British public that they are out there somewhere. The Labour government still stands by the internationally discredited hoax that Iraq was trying to buy nuclear material from the African state of Niger. On the other hand, Bush and his ideologues have given up pretending that WMDs were their primary cause for the invasion.

Labour’s smoking gun

It should not be under-estimated what effect those mythical WMD’s are having on the governments of the coalitionUK, USA, Australia and Spain. There are now official enquiries taking place in all these countries reflecting the returning mood of popular and vocal scepticism that existed in those countries (and many others) in the days leading up to the invasion. Although sounding increasingly desperate, Blair insists they will be found. This is despite the fact that coalition forces have captured most of the deck of cards – the 55 most wanted sons and daughters of the Baathist regime. Surely one of them would have revealed their location in exchange for a comfortable and anonymous exile Nazi-style? This, together with 200,000 occupying troops roaming the country and of course the wide range of surveillance options targeted on Iraq, means that they are either bloody well hidden or these WMD do not exist in any state of readiness (45 minutes or other), or in quantities that could be effective.

While the limited remit of Hutton’s enquiry into the tragic death of Dr Kelly has thrown some light onto the murkier workings of government and the way it treats its employees, it has succeeded in deflecting from the central issues of where are the promised WMDs and did the government deliberately mislead the people. Alistair Campbell’s feud with journalist, Andrew Gilligan, and the BBC was a great diversion from Labour’s own smoking gun. Unfortunately David Kelly’s death was the collateral damage that had to be sustained for Blair and Labours’ survival. It is perhaps ironic that while Campbell attacked Gilligan for not verifying his source’s statements regarding the misleading 45 minutes, the intelligence on the 45 minute claim was second-hand, unverified hearsay.

While it is satisfying to see some of the smugness wiped off the face of New Labour at Hutton’s enquiry, we should be under no illusions that its conclusions will lay bare the truth of why Blair took us to war. Although only in its preliminary stages at the time of writing, it is likely it will produce some recommendations about the government’s treatment of civil servants and the responsibility of the media, in particular the BBC, but it is unlikely to lift the moral cover for Labour’s imperialist intervention.

WMD used against the Iraqi people

It must not be forgotten that WMD, by the tonne-load, were used in this war by the USAF and the RAF. Uranium tipped ordnance – very real WMD – litter the country polluting the land and the water, threatening the health of the ordinary people of Iraq. No less destructive, to the unsuspecting Iraqi who accidentally disturbs one, are the hordes of unexploded cluster bombs lying hidden across the country. On top of this there is also the scarcity of clean drinking water, food and healthcare. All this on a people that have suffered the brutal dictatorship of Saddam and a decade of UN sanctions.

The US’s pledge to bring civilisation, freedom and security to Iraq is an obscene joke; and they are starting to feel the heat. US casualties are multiplying day by day. Not only are the numbers of dead increasing, but over 500 have been injured since the official end of operations. There are British casualties too. However, coalition forces are covered in body armour and have technologically advanced firepower. The vast majority of Iraqis have no such protection, including those civilians caught in US indiscriminate shooting after their forces have come under attack. How many ordinary Iraqis have been injured, killed or detained by the occupying forces since the start of the war?

US climbdown

The optimism of the Bush administration is wearing thinner and thinner. The devastating bomb attacks on the Jordanian embassy and the UN headquarters, both in Baghdad, and the killing of over 100 people, including a leading Shiite cleric, in Najaf are just the most high profile examples of the failure of US security.

Bush’s popularity is just starting to ebb. As the next US presidential elections move nearer Democratic contenders are starting to become a bit braver, struggling free from the bi-partisan consensus that has existed in the two years since 9/11. They are trying to get noticed by criticising Bush over his foreign policy and on economic issues. The cost of pursuing the war on terrorism is not going to be cheap and it is the American working class who will end up paying for it either in tax dollars or through active service. The US is back-pedalling, after originally claiming they would go it alone if necessary. They are now looking to share the burden of the Iraqi occupation. A resolution, approved by Bush, will be put before the UN Security Council calling for the creation of a multi-national force, and looking for more foreign financial contributions to rebuild the country. Through tentative talks at the UN they are trying to convince other countries to commit more resources, both military and economic, although they will want to retain command. No doubt the horse trading will revolve around construction and service contracts that will be allocated in exchange for such aid.

This will be a huge climb down for the Bush administration and its leading hawks such as Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated the annual cost of the US military occupation at between $8 billion and $29 billion, depending on the number of troops required. However with escalating budget deficits at home, Bush is desperate to procure financial contributions from other states. The obvious candidates are France, Germany and Russia – countries that the US government verbally abused after they failed to support the war. It will be interesting to see if imperialist equilibrium is restored to the UN Security Council.

Impact of the War on Terror

Even beyond Iraq’s borders, Bush and Blair’s global ‘war on terror’ has been a failure. In Afghanistan, the Taliban have been regrouping. There have been some major clashes between them and the Afghan army, backed up by US forces. US military power has still failed to crush this medieval force. US soldiers are being killed and injured here too. Hamid Karzai’s authority barely reaches the outskirts of Kabul and the much heralded reconstruction has not been delivered, as international focus shifted to the more lucrative pickings of Iraq.

Advocates of Islamic supremacism, coordinated by al-Qaeda, have continued to carry out attacks throughout the world from Indonesia to East Africa, from Russia to Morocco, killing injuring and terrorising thousands. Many commentators now report followers of many of al-Qaeda’s satellites joining the jihad on Iraqi soil to confront the US military machine.

The impact of 9/11 cannot be underestimated. Repressive powers have been significantly increased in the UK and US. These have taken the form of the Anti Terrorism Crime and Security Act, the Asylum Bill and the Patriot Act, which have had a huge impact on democratic rights and civil liberties in both countries. In the US, the vilification of celebrity opponents of the war and state intimidation of ordinary anti-war activists are everyday occurrences, under the guise of anti terrorism. The state can now search your library records with impunity! In the aftermath of any significant incident, officialdom’s first thought is to confirm or deny terrorist involvement. Witness the recent massive power cuts that affected the US and Canada’s eastern seaboard, followed a few days later by a similar incident that affected London. The first question asked was – terrorist attack? However, it appears that both were caused by chronic under-investment in public utilities by the profitplundering private sector. Ah, the benefits of privatisation and free trade!

The failure to stabilise and subjugate Iraq and the Iraqi people has also dampened the expectations of those who thought a swift victory in Iraq would resolve the Palestinian war in Zionism’s favour. Instead those following Bush’s Road Map have lost their way as Sharon’s government attempts to derail it by continuing to execute those Palestinian activists who fight back. This at a time when Hamas and Islamic Jihad had called a unilateral ceasefire. Again the US government tasted a big slice of humble pie as it approached Arafat, who they side-lined and humiliated, to try and broker a further ceasefire. However the US and Israel are adamant that they have a veto over the appointment of a Prime Ministerial replacement for Mahmoud Abbas – and they have the audacity to lecture others on democracy. No doubt the Iraqis will be expected to abide by similar guidelines when elections are held under US rule.

Across the globe we see imperialist concessions being withdrawn as part of the War on Terror. For example, the Indonesian military has ended the tentative ceasefire in Aceh and stepped up repression once more; Colombia is under a state of emergency, having its own Plan drawn up by the US and implemented by President Uribe; Spain’s Aznar government has banned Batasuna (the Basque nationalist party); and the British government continues to postpone democratic elections to the Stormont Assembly in Northern Ireland.

Where now for the anti-war movement?

Internationally the anti-war movement has to continue to raise the slogans of all occupying troops out of Iraq and self-determination for the Iraqi people. In Britain the movement has a special responsibility because it is our ruling class that is riding shotgun for US imperialism, hoping to get the scraps and left-overs, like some loyal canine. The manipulation and deceit of the Blair administration contributed to Dr Kelly’s death. The Labour government must continue to be challenged on the uncomfortable questions over WMD. They must not be allowed to forget that their primary reason for war was a hoax that led to the death and injury of thousands of Iraqis, destroying their country. At the same time it has resulted in the death and maiming of hundreds of working class squaddies.

It is over issues such as the war in Iraq that the bankruptcy of British parliamentary democracy is exposed to the full glare of public attention. Parliament’s failure to bring to account the government is highlighted by the farce over dishonest dossiers and vanishing WMDs. Nor must Jack McConnell’s supine role as Scotland’s First Minister be forgotten. He relayed Blair’s lies to the Scottish Parliament, finding all too willing support amongst New Labour MSPs. The Hutton enquiry has given a small glimpse of the secrecy that pervades British bourgeois democracy. It illustrates its limitations and the class interests it upholds. Something of the political role of the intelligence community, in the shape of John Scarlett, the Joint Intelligence Committee and other little-publicised bodies with an array of initials, has been revealed. The anti war movement must not neglect this denial of democracy as an area of concern.

Socialists must be at the forefront of arguing for genuine, active, participatory democracy. Transparency and openness are key ingredients in any working class organisation – trade union, tenants association or political party. They should also be a pre-requisite of any public body, especially government.

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